Lower respiratory tract infections (LRTIs) in early childhood are known to influence lung development and lifelong lung health, but their link to premature adult death from respiratory disease is unclear. This analysis aimed to estimate the association between early childhood LRTI and the risk and burden of premature adult mortality from respiratory disease.
This longitudinal observational cohort study used data collected prospectively by the Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development in a nationally representative cohort recruited at birth in March 1946, in England, Scotland, and Wales. It evaluated the association between LRTI during early childhood (age <2 years) and death from respiratory disease from age 26 through 73 years. Early childhood LRTI occurrence was reported by parents or guardians. Cause and date of death were obtained from the National Health Service Central Register. Hazard ratios (HRs) and population attributable risk associated with early childhood LRTI were estimated using competing risks Cox proportional hazards models, adjusted for childhood socioeconomic position, childhood home overcrowding, birthweight, sex, and smoking at age 20–25 years. The researchers compared mortality within the cohort studied with national mortality patterns and estimated corresponding excess deaths occurring nationally during the study period.
5362 participants were enrolled in March, 1946, and 4032 (75%) continued participating in the study at age 20–25 years. 443 participants with incomplete data on early childhood (368 [9%] of 4032), smoking (57 [1%]), or mortality (18 [<1%]) were excluded. 3589 participants aged 26 years (1840 [51%] male and 1749 [49%] female) were included in the survival analyses from 1972 onwards. The maximum follow-up time was 47·9 years. Among 3589 participants, 913 (25%) who had an LRTI during early childhood were at greater risk of dying from respiratory disease by age 73 years than those with no LRTI during early childhood (HR 1·93, 95% CI 1·10–3·37; p=0·021), after adjustment for childhood socioeconomic position, childhood home overcrowding, birthweight, sex, and adult smoking. This finding corresponded to a population attributable risk of 20·4% (95% CI 3·8–29·8) and 179 188 (95% CI 33 806–261 519) excess deaths across England and Wales between 1972 and 2019.
The authors concluded that, in this perspective, life-spanning, nationally representative cohort study, LRTI during early childhood was associated with almost a two times increased risk of premature adult death from respiratory disease, and accounted for one-fifth of these deaths.
What has that got to do with so-called alternative medicine?
Yet, I feel that this study is so remarkable that I need to report on it nonetheless.
What do the findings indicate?
I am not sure. Perhaps they confirm that our genetic makeup is hugely important in determining our health. Thus even the earliest signs of weakness can provide an indication of what might happen in later life.
Whatever the meaning, I find this study fascinating and hope you agree.