FRIDAY Oct. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Young adults who were born very prematurely have higher blood pressure and more fat despite a normal body weight, both signs that may point to a heightened risk of health problems such as heart disease and diabetes later in life, a new study finds.

British researchers examined 23 otherwise healthy people aged 18 to 27 who were born at 33 weeks of gestation or less. The participants had higher blood pressure, more fat in their muscle and liver, and more fat tissue despite having a normal body-mass index (BMI) compared to young adults who were full-term babies.

These traits are associated with type 2 diabetes and heart and circulatory disease, the Imperial College London team noted in a news release.

The study appears in the journal Pediatric Research.

"This was only a small study, but the differences we found were quite striking," said lead investigator Neena Modi, a professor at Imperial College London. "The results suggest that we need to monitor the health of premature babies beyond infancy and childhood. Preterm men and women might be at greater risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases but if we look out for the warning signs, we can help them to stay healthy with lifestyle interventions, and treatment where appropriate."

She and her colleagues noted that the number of preterm babies born each year is rising. In developed countries, about 2 percent of babies are born before 33 weeks of gestation.

The survival rate of premature babies has increased due to medical advances, and more than 90 percent of infants born before 33 weeks will survive. But few studies have examined the long-term health effects of premature birth.

More information

The March of Dimes has more about premature birth.