Preterm infants are at a greater risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, shows research.
The study of 48 volunteers aged 18-27 found that those who were born at 33 weeks of gestation or less had higher blood pressure, more fat tissue despite having a normal Body Mass Index, and more fat in their muscle and liver.
These traits are linked to heart and circulatory disease and type 2 diabetes. The differences in fat around the abdomen were most marked in men.
The scientists said that the research indicates that urgent work is now needed to monitor preterm babies into adulthood to improve the detection of early signs of disease.
"This was only a small study but the differences we found were quite striking," said Professor Neena Modi, the lead investigator in the study from the Department of Medicine 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.
The findings will be published in the journal Pediatric Research.