Effects of being born small extend to adulthood

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Children born “small for gestational age” — that is, significantly smaller than most babies born after the same number of weeks of pregnancy — appear to be at increased risk for rapid gains in weight and body fat during adulthood, researchers from Paris, France report.

People born small for gestational age are at increased risk for heart disease during adulthood and excess weight and body fat may exacerbate this risk, note Dr. Taly Meas, from Hopital Robert Debre, and colleagues.

The investigators analyzed the body weight and composition of 389 men and women born small for gestational age and 462 individuals born an appropriate size for gestational age. They compared these measures when the study participants were 22 years old and again when they were 30 years old.

At both age assessments, individuals born small were smaller and lighter than those born an appropriate size, the investigators report in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism

At the age of 22, the average waist size was smaller in the born small group than the group born an appropriate size — 75 centimeters (29.25 inches) versus 77 centimeters (just over 30 inches). However by age 30 years, both groups had average waist size of 82 centimeters (almost 32 inches), the investigators report.

Furthermore, at age 22, the two groups had similar average body mass, but over the next 8 years later, the born small group put on weight more rapidly.

“Over 8-years follow-up, adults born small for gestational age gained more body mass index than appropriate for gestational age, resulting in greater fat mass with more abdominal fat,” Meas and colleagues report.

Moreover, they found that the proportion of obese individuals was about twice as high in the born small group as in the group born an appropriate size (12.3 percent versus 6.5 percent).

According to the investigators, these data suggest that consequences of restricted fetal growth reach beyond the period of infancy.

SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, October 2008

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