Low Birth Weight Linked to Cardiovascular Risk Later in Life

October 06, 2019
Results of a recent analysis of children from West Virginia are suggesting low birth weight could serve as a predictor of cardiovascular risk later in life.

While previous research had linked low birth weight to poor health outcomes, the analysis of more than 19,500 children found statistically significant associations between birth weight and blood pressure as well as cholesterol and triglycerides at age 11—highlighting the need for early interventions and education.

In an effort to establish evidence of the link between birthweight and childhood cardiovascular disease risk factors, a team of investigators from the University of West Virginia—led by Amna Umer, PhD, MPH—sought to establish whether an association between birthweight and cardiovascular risk later in life and to assess the severity of such an association. Using data from West Virginia birth certificates, the West Virginia WATCH/Birth Score program, and the CARDIAC project, investigators obtained information on more than 20,000 children born between 1994 and 2010 across all 55 counties in the state.

A total of 22,136 children were identified and 19,583 were included in the current analysis—2553 were excluded as they did not qualify as a full-term birth. To evaluate potential associations, investigators analyzed health of study participants at 11 years of age.

Outcome measures of the study included systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein(LDL) cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein(HDL), non-HDL, and triglycerides. Investigators also included information on the participants’ BMI, socio-demographics, family medical histories, and other factors in multi regression analyses.

Unadjusted analyses revealed a statistically significant association between birth weight and systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, HDL, and triglycerides. Upon adjustment for a child’s BMI, investigators found associations between birthweight and HDL(B=0.14(95% CI: 0.11, 0.18) mg/dl per 1000 g increase) and between birthweight and triglycerides (B=0.007(–0.008, –0.005) mg/dl per 1000 g increase) remained statistically significant.

Results of the fully adjusted model found low birth weight was associated with higher LDL, non-HDL, and trigylercides, as well as lower HDL levels. Investigators pointed out the child’s BMI at 11 years of age partially (HDL, non-HDL, and triglycerides) and fully mediated (systolic and diastolic blood pressure).

Based on results of the study, investigators suggest present risk factors at age 11 may persistent and amplify with age, leaving children with an increased risk of experiencing unfavorable consequences later on in life. Additionally, they point to results as an example of the importance of early interventions.

"We don't want to say that once you have a low birth weight, there's nothing you can do," Umer said. "Now that you know there's a low-birth-weight baby, you can make sure they have proper postnatal feeding, monitor their growth and teach kids about good diet, nutrition, physical activity and prevention of risky health behaviors such as smoking. You can intervene from childhood into adulthood."

This study, “Association between birth weight and childhood cardiovascular disease risk factors in West Virginia,” is published online in Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease.
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