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Reproductive & Child Health News

Size of Newborn May Determine Heart Health in Later Life
January 17, 2000

Poor prenatal nutrition and smaller-than-average size may be predictors of coronary heart disease, according to a study by researchers in Finland. They found that the shorter the female infant and the thinner the male infant, the greater the chance for developing heart disease in later life.

Infants are born smaller because of poor prenatal nutrition, the researchers said. An undernourished fetus makes adaptations that alter metabolism and affect hormonal output and amount of blood pumped by the heart. These alterations slow growth, and the result is that undernourished females tend to be shorter than average newborns and male newborns tend to be thinner than normal-sized infants.

Researchers followed more than 7,000 men and women who were born between 1924 and 1933 throughout their lives. For instance, they measured the participants' height and weight 10 times between the ages of six and 16 and tracked their medical records through adulthood. Because the rate of death from coronary disease is much lower among women, the researchers included people who developed non-fatal heart disease, as well as those who died from it.

The key conclusions listed by the researchers, who published their results in the November 27, 1999, issue of the "British Medical Journal, were:

  • Coronary heart disease is associated with low birth weight in both sexes, but more strongly with short body length in females and thinness at birth in males.
  • The slower fetal growth of females may be the reason for their lower rate of coronary heart disease.
These differences may reflect the different fetal growth rates in males and females.

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