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.
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
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
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
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