Fetal and prepubertal growth both programme cholesterol metabolism in adulthood

Birthweight, subsequent growth, and cholesterol metabolism in children 8-12 years old born preterm 2001;84: 212-17

The body's ability to process cholesterol as an adult is likely to be programmed by size at birth, shows research in Archives of Disease in Childhood. But just as important are the years between 8 and 12.

Birthweight, length of pregnancy, and weight at 18 months were measured in 412 boys and girls, all of whom were light for dates at birth. Blood fats, including indicators of cholesterol production and absorption, were subsequently measured when the children were aged 8 and 12.

Lower birthweight was associated with reduced cholesterol absorption in children born prematurely. Children who had more catching-up to do to achieve normal weight for age were significantly more likely to process cholesterol less efficiently, between the ages of 8 and 12.

The amount of body fat a child carried, rather than overall weight or current height, was associated with increased cholesterol production and lower cholesterol absorption. And that remained true even when the child was within the normal range of fatness, suggesting increasing fatness during childhood can affect the body's subsequent ability to process cholesterol.

The authors suggest that their findings indicate that cholesterol metabolism, and the attendant risk of heart disease in adulthood, are programmed not only during the womb, but also by growth up to puberty.


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