Open Access Research article

Early maternal age at first birth is associated with chronic diseases and poor physical performance in older age: cross-sectional analysis from the International Mobility in Aging Study

Catherine M Pirkle1*, Ana Carolina Patrício de Albuquerque Sousa2, Beatriz Alvarado3, Maria-Victoria Zunzunegui4 and For the IMIAS Research Group

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Population Health and Environment, Research Center CHUQ, Laval University, 2875, Boulevard Laurier, Édifice Delta II; Bureau 600, 6e étage, Québec, QC G1V 2M2, Canada

2 Department of Physiotherapy, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte, Avenida Senador Salgado Filho, S/N Caixa Postal 1524 - Campus Universitário - Lagoa Nova CEP, Natal, RN 59072-970, Brazil

3 Department of Public Health Science, Queen’s University, Carruthers Hall, Queen's University Kingston, Kingston, ON K7L 3 N6, Canada

4 Centre de Recherche du Centre Hospitalière de l’Université de Montréal, Institute de Recherche en Santé Publique de l’Université de Montréal, Tour Saint-Antoine, 850, rue St-Denis, Suite S03.312, Montreal H2X 0A9, Québec, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:293  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-293

Published: 31 March 2014



Early maternal age at first birth and elevated parity may have long-term consequences for the health of women as they age. Both are known risk factors for obstetrical complications with lifelong associated morbidities. They may also be related to diabetes and cardiovascular disease development.


We examine the relationship between early maternal age at first birth, defined as ≤18 years of age, multiparity (>2 births), and poor physical performance (Short Physical Performance Battery ≤8) in community samples of women between 65 and 74 years of age from Canada, Albania, Colombia, and Brazil (N = 1040). Data were collected in 2012 to provide a baseline assessment for a longitudinal cohort called the International Mobility in Aging Study. We used logistic regression and general linear models to analyse the data.


Early maternal age at first birth is significantly associated with diabetes, chronic lung disease, high blood pressure, and poor physical performance in women at older ages. Parity was not independently associated with chronic conditions and physical performance in older age. After adjustment for study site, age, education, childhood economic adversity and lifetime births, women who gave birth at a young age had 1.75 (95% CI: 1.17 – 2.64) the odds of poor SPPB compared to women who gave birth > 18 years of age. Adjustment for chronic diseases attenuated the association between early first birth and physical performance. Results were weaker in Colombia and Brazil, than Canada and Albania.


This study provides evidence that adolescent childbirth may increase the risk of developing chronic diseases and physical limitations in older age. Results likely reflect both the biological and social consequences of early childbearing and if the observed relationship is causal, it reinforces the importance of providing contraception and sex education to young women, as the consequences of early pregnancy may be life-long.

Global health; Life-course epidemiology; Aging; Adolescent pregnancy; Parity; SPPB