A new study takes a look at the link between preterm births and obstructive sleep apnea. Children born preterm were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with sleep apnea than those born at term.

The study involved a group of nearly 400,000 children between the ages of 2.5 and 6-years-old, born in Australia between 2000 and 2004. It found that babies born at less than 32 weeks were significantly more likely to have the diagnosis of sleep apnea (2.7%) than babies born at term (1.0%).

The authors of the study, published in the journal SLEEP suggest their findings provide sufficient evidence of an association between preterm birth and obstructive sleep apnea and suggest that screening children born preterm for risk of sleep apnea should be a priority.

To their knowledge this is the largest study investigating preterm birth and sleep apnea diagnosis and suggests that diagnosis of sleep disordered breathing is more prevalent in children born preterm, but not those who are small for their age.

The underlying association between preterm birth and childhood obstructive sleep apnea is not well understood. The association between environmental and birth-related factors also has been investigated; childhood metabolic disease, resulting in anatomical structural changes may also cause childhood obstructive sleep apnea.