Birth size linked to weight gain and inflammation

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The results of a study published in the European Heart Journal indicate there is an association between lower birth weight and greater weight gain from childhood to adulthood and with low-grade inflammation in adulthood.

“Impaired fetal growth and growth during infancy or childhood may trigger inflammatory pathways leading to activated low-grade inflammation in adulthood,” Dr. Paul Elliott, of Imperial College London, UK, and colleagues write. They suggest that this inflammation may be an “intermediate factor” that links impaired fetal growth and cardiovascular disease, a relationship that has been previously found.

Using data from a study in northern Finland that began in 1966, the researchers examined the relationships between fetal growth, weight gain from childhood to adulthood, and low-grade inflammation measured by blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a “biomarker” for inflammation, meaning higher than normal levels suggest inflammation is occurring.

Included in the analysis were 5,840 participants who attended a clinical examination at 31 years of age that included CRP measurement. Weight and height were assessed at birth, 1 year, and 14 years of age.

Elliott’s group found that CRP levels at 31 years of age were 16 percent higher for each 1 kilogram of lower birth weight; 21 percent higher per 10 centimeters of lower birth length; and 24 percent higher per lower BMI unit.

The subjects in the lowest 25 percent of birth weight and the highest 33 percent of BMI at either 14 or 31 years had the highest average adult CRP levels.

The authors report that 1 unit increase in body mass index from 14 to 31 years of age was associated with a 16 percent higher adult CRP level. The association was greater for subjects in the top 25 percent of BMI at age 14 years.

“A better understanding of the mechanisms that underlie these associations is essential to inform preventive measures -- from the fetal period through childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood,” Elliott’s team comments.

“The finding that weight gain from adolescence to young adulthood appears to play a greater role in low-grade inflammation than weight in adolescence per se, could have important implications for the...prevention of cardiovascular disease,” they note.

SOURCE: European Heart Journal, April 2008.