"This study demonstrates for the first time that growth patterns before birth, after birth and into childhood reveal a risk of coronary heart disease later in life," said lead study author David Barker, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine (cardiology) at Oregon Health & Science University Heart Research Center.
In a retrospective study, Barker and his team found that Finnish children who had coronary heart disease as adults were born small, were thin at age 2 and then gained weight rapidly. They were also more likely to have insulin resistance later in life. Insulin resistance, a feature of type II diabetes, is a known risk factor for coronary heart disease.
"Small babies lack muscle, a condition that continues into childhood," said Barker, who is known internationally for his award-winning research program that examines the fetal origins of chronic disease in adults. "Rapid weight gain may lead to a high level of body fat in relation to muscle. This may explain why this growth pattern is related to insulin resistance and, thus, coronary heart disease."
Researchers found no relationship between increases in body mass index (BMI) and disease risk at age 2. However, by age 11, a strong pattern of increasing BMI indicated a 14 percent to 35 percent increase in risk of coronary heart disease as an adult. BMI measures weight in relation to height.
"Our latest advice is that children should enjoy plenty of physical activity and eat a nutritious diet to help prevent coronary heart disease in adulthood," said Kent Thornburg, Ph.D., director of the OHSU Heart Research Center, profes
Contact: Rachel MacKnight
Oregon Health & Science University