A new study in the US has found that babies with either low- or high birth weight are at an increased risk of heart (cardiovascular) diseases. As per Dr Brian Stansfield of Augusta University, Georgia, US, both the birth weight extremes appear to increase the likelihood of early development of dangerous fat around major organs in the abdomen that significantly increases these risks.
By adolescence, the children have not just more of this visceral adiposity, a stand-alone risk factor for cardiovascular disease, but more related problems such as insulin resistance and inflammation than their average birth weight peers, according to a study of 575 adolescents, now age 14-18, divided into three groups by birth weight.
The findings were independent of other usual cardiovascular risk factors such as lower activity levels and socioeconomic status as well as higher body mass index -- weight divided by height -- which actually did not vary much among all three birth weight groups, according to the study in the Journal of Pediatrics.
And while the association between low birth weight and future cardiovascular disease is well-recognised, the new study showed the association may not be easily modified by healthy eating and exercise, Stansfield said.
Rather, researchers found adolescents born low birth weight had a similar body build as adolescents born at average birth weight but still had greater visceral adiposity and high insulin levels in their blood. Both are usually associated with generalised obesity and an elevated BMI.
“The 5-pound baby, regardless of whether he grows up to be obese, normal weight or thin is going to have more visceral adiposity than a similar child with a normal birth weight,” said Stansfield, corresponding author. A heavy baby, on the other hand, who exercises and eats healthy as he grows, may reduce his risk.
The take-home message for mothers-to-be also is not new, Stansfield said: Don’t smoke and do breastfeed. Maternal smoking is the number one cause of low-birth weight babies, and breast milk may be protective. The take-home message for his fellow physicians is: When assessing cardiovascular risk in adult patients, consider birth weight a factor.
The study appears in Journal of Pediatrics.