A new study from Finland suggests a low birth weight increases the risk that a man will become disabled before he reaches retirement age.
The relationship between prenatal health and suboptimal intrauterine growth, as related to subsequent economic earning capacity, is a provoking thesis.
In the review, Finnish researchers found that 20 percent of the men who were born during the years 1934-1944, retired on a disability pension between 1971 and 2011.
Their findings are published in the journal PLoS One.
Early exit from the workforce due to a disability pension might be related to non-optimal growth during the fetal period, said Mikaela von Bonsdorff from the University of Jyväskylä.
The leading causes of disability pension are mental disorders, musculoskeletal disorders, and cardiovascular diseases.
Low birth weight was particularly associated with a higher risk of disability pension due to mental disorders.
The average retirement age of cohort members who retired due to mental disorders was 51, whereas other cohort members were able to work 10 years longer. The early retirements resulted in a substantial loss to the economy, said von Bonsdorff.
In Finland, detailed records are kept on medical and welfare care. For the current research, the Helsinki Birth Cohort Study includes birth and childhood growth data extracted from the medical and healthcare records of 13,500 individuals.
Documentation maintained by the Finnish child welfare system, established in the 1930s, enables unique research on how early physical development and growth is associated with adult chronic diseases, ability to function and premature mortality.
These findings emphasize that early development and growth has various long-term consequences for public health and the economy.
Suboptimal intrauterine development might increase susceptibility to adulthood mental disorders causing early exit from the workforce, said Professor Johan Eriksson, the leader of the Helsinki Birth Cohort Study from the University of Helsinki.