Thin babies are vulnerable to heart disease if they are poor as adults

November 29, 2001

Men who are thin at birth and have poor living standards in adult life are at highest risk of coronary heart disease, finds a study in this week's BMJ.

Professor David Barker, and colleagues in Finland, followed a large group of men born in a Helsinki hospital during 1934-44. As expected, they found that men who had low social class or low household income had higher rates of coronary heart disease. These effects, however, were confined to men who were thin at birth, but then rapidly gained weight during childhood. Men who were not thin at birth could withstand the later effects of poor living standards.

Improvements in fetal, infant, and child growth may prevent coronary heart disease in the next generation by improving the body's fitness and making it resilient to later social adversity, conclude the authors.

The most interesting finding of this paper is the interaction between childhood and adult conditions, writes Professor Michael Marmot in an accompanying editorial. In showing the importance of early life conditions, adult conditions, and their interaction, this paper reinforces the call to look at the influence of conditions throughout life in determining social inequalities in disease in adulthood, he concludes.
Size at birth and resilience to effects of poor living conditions in adult life: longitudinal study BMJ Volume 323, pp 1273-6

Editorial: Aetiology of coronary heart disease BMJ Volume 323, pp 1261


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