Low Birth Weight And Rapid Catch Up Growth Are Risk Factors For Heart Disease

February 12, 1999

Catch-up growth in childhood and death from coronary heart disease : longitudinal study

Men who had low birth weight or were thin at birth have high death rates from coronary heart disease and death rates are even higher if their weight "catches up" in early childhood. Johan Eriksson and colleagues from National Public Health Institute in Finland and David Barker and colleagues at the MRC Environmental Epidemiology Unit at the University of Southampton studied 3,641 men born in Helsinki between 1924 and 1933 for whom detailed records of growth and weight were available. In this week's BMJ they report that the link between low birth weight and high death rates from coronary heart disease found in this study is consistent with findings from a UK cohort of 13,000+ men and a Swedish study of 7000 men.

The new element is the link with catch up growth in childhood. Men with the highest rates of the disease were thin at birth but by the age of seven years their weight had "caught up" and thereafter their body mass index was above average. The authors suggest that because thin babies lack muscle it is possible that if they develop a high body mass in childhood they may have a disproportionately high fat mass. Another possibility is that accelerated post natal weight gain is intrinsically damaging, the authors suggest. This unique study suggests that programmes to reduce obesity among boys may need to focus on those who had low birth weight or were thin at birth.

Contact :

Professor David Barker, Medical Research Council Environmental Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton david.barker@mrc.soton.ac.uk


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