Babies born early have a higher risk of poor health as they grow older, researchers have claimed.

The research, published  online in the British Medical Journal, found that the earlier a baby is born, the higher the risk of developing diseases such as asthma and gastrointestinal infections.

Surprisingly, the researchers also found that babies born at 37-38 weeks also suffered poor health compared to those born at 39-41 weeks.

The study looked at data on more than 14,000 children. It found that babies born at 37-38 weeks were 10 per cent more likely to suffer with a long-standing illness, asthma or wheezing compared to those born at 39 weeks onwards.  The situation was worse when aged five, when early babies born at 37-38 weeks were 40 per cent more likely to have been prescribed with an asthma inhaler.

The experts, from the University of Leicester and the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford, also found links between early births and growth, weight-gain and hospital admissions.

They said: "Our results challenge widely held views that long-term health outcomes for moderate and late preterm babies (32 to 36 weeks) are similar to those for babies born at full term.

"The results also challenge perceptions about outcomes for babies born during part of the period of gestation that has traditionally been regarded as term (37 to 38 weeks)."

Posted by Robert Mair on 2/3/2012