Small babies who gain weight too fast have higher BP as adults

February 04, 2002

DALLAS, Feb. 4 - Rapid weight gain in children who were low birth weight babies may increase their risk for high blood pressure in adulthood, according to a report in today's rapid access issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Many epidemiological studies have shown that people who are small at birth tend to have higher blood pressure later in life, say the study authors. However, researchers don't know whether slowed development before birth or a phenomenon called "catch-up" growth is linked to high blood pressure. "Catch-up" growth is a common growth pattern in low birth weight babies, who often show an accelerated growth rate and weight gain during infancy and early childhood.

"Pediatricians often encourage catch-up growth for babies with low birth weight, but we didn't know if this might lead to higher blood pressure in these people when they are adults," says lead author Catherine Law, M.D., an epidemiologist at the medical research council environmental epidemiology unit at the University of Southampton, Southampton, UK.

Researchers studied blood pressure in 346 British men and women whose size had been measured at birth and for the first 10 years of life. Participants were 21-24 years old and had their height, weight, body mass and blood pressure measured. The researchers found that greater weight gain between ages one and five were associated with higher systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) in adults. They also found that people with lower birth weight had higher systolic pressure. They calculated that systolic blood pressure was 2.7 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) higher for each kilogram (kg) decrease in birth weight (1kg = 2.2 pounds).

Children who gained most weight between ages one and five were also likely to have the highest body mass index, a measure of fatness, but this only partly explained their higher blood pressure. Weight gain in the first year of life did not affect adult blood pressure.

"Preventing high blood pressure in adulthood may depend on gaining a better understanding of the factors that contribute to it during pregnancy and early childhood," says Law.
Co-authors are A. W. Shiell, M.Sc.; C.A. Newsome, Ph.D.; H.E. Syddall, M.Sc.; E. A. Shinebourne, M.D.; P.M. Fayers, Ph.D.; C. N. Martyn, M.A., D. Phil.; and M. de Swiet, M.D.

CONTACT: For journal copies only,
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American Heart Association

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