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Women Who Delay Having Children May Increase Risk For Some Health Problems

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Women over the age of 35 who have children may be at increased risk of some long-term health problems, especially those linked to heart disease, a new nationwide study suggests.

Angelo Alonzo

Results showed that women who delayed childbearing were significantly more likely than other women to have high blood pressure and diabetes after the age of 50.

In addition, these women were more likely to receive a less than good health assessment from their doctors than were women who had children earlier in life.

"Women should be concerned about the potential long-term consequences of postponing childbearing, especially if they have a family history of cardiovascular diseases."

The findings suggest women should take care when deciding whether to have children after their early 30s, said Angelo Alonzo, author of the study and associate professor of sociology at Ohio State University.

"The study didn't conclusively find that having children after age 35 was always bad for long-term health," Alonzo said.

"However, women should be concerned about the potential long-term consequences of postponing childbearing, especially if they have a family history of cardiovascular diseases."

The study was published in a recent issue of the journal Women's Health Issues.

The study used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III, which involved a comprehensive study of people across the country from 1988 to 1994. The volunteers participated in extensive medical examinations, biochemical tests and other physical measures, and surveys of diet and demographic information.

Alonzo used data from 6,559 women who reported having children. About 84 percent of the women had all their children by age 35. Nearly 2 percent of women had their first child after age 35. The remaining 14 percent had children both before and after age 35.

In completing his analysis, Alonzo took into account factors such as race, age, health insurance coverage and income that may have also affected the health of the mothers.

The study examined 24 different health indicators. Of these, 13 showed at least some trend toward negative health consequences after age 50 for women who delivered children after the age of 35. However, only four -- high blood pressure, diabetes, doctor health assessment and doctor assessment of mobility -- were significantly worse in those who had children after the age of 35. Diabetes and high blood pressure have both been linked to heart disease.

Other health indicators - such as fewer bladder infections and greater bone density - seemed to be somewhat better in women who had children after age 35, although these differences were not significant.

While doctors reported lower levels of health for women who delayed childbirth, the women rated themselves as no less healthy than did early child bearers.

"It may well be that women who delay childbearing perceive themselves as healthier than do women who don't have children after 35," Alonzo said. "If they didn't think of themselves as healthy and able, they probably wouldn't have chosen to have a child."

Alonzo said the results are important given that more women are delaying childbirth to pursue careers or other interests and medical technology is allowing women to bear children at later ages.

"With the assistance of infertility programs, women have more childbirth options as they get older," Alonzo said. "But the results here might give some pause to extended delay and reinforce reservations about delayed childbirth."


Contact Angelo Alonzo, (614) 292-6616; Alonzo.1@osu.edu Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457; Grabmeier.1@osu.edu