Most premature babies grow up to be just as sporty as their friends

Findings from Child of the New Century have shown that being born preterm is no barrier to children and young people participating in organised sports and playing with friends.

What we asked you and your parents

When you were a baby your parents were asked to tell us about the timing of your birth. Then during your childhood they reported on how often you took part in organised sports clubs and classes, and how much you played with your friends and brothers and sisters.

When you reached 14 you told us how much you exercised, and some of you were also asked to wear devices to measure how physically active you were on one week day and one weekend day.

What the researchers found

Those of you who were born early, before 37 weeks, were just as active as your friends during childhood. You took part in sports clubs and classes, went swimming and played with friends just as regularly as your peers.

Among premature children, girls tended to take part more often than boys in organised sports at age 5, but by ages 7 and 11 it was the boys who were likely to be more engaged in sports clubs and classes. They were also more likely than girls to get exercise by playing with friends and siblings at these ages.

Nothing had changed by the time you reached age 14 – most of you who had been born early reported that you exercised just as regularly as your peers. Although those born between 32 and 34 weeks tended to think you weren’t as physically active as other young people in the study, the activity monitors you wore showed that actually, you exercised just as often. Boys were likely to be more physically active than girls during their mid-teens.

Looking across all study participants, those of you who had been taken to a live sports event or participated in sports clubs and classes as children tended to exercise more regularly at age 14.

Why this research matters

The report shows that being born early doesn’t necessarily prevent children and young people from taking part in sports and other exercise.

The findings also suggest that if children take part in sports and exercise when they are young, this could help to nurture good habits lasting into adolescence. Taking children to watch live sporting events could also help to encourage them to exercise more regularly.

Find out more about this research

This research was carried out by researchers at the University of Warwick. Read the full paper here.