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Slow Growth in Infancy Increases Heart Disease Risk

Friday April 20, 2001

By Will Boggs, MD

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Babies that do not gain sufficient weight in the first year of life appear to be at higher risk of developing heart disease later on, according to the latest research on the influence of early nutrition on adult heart disease.

After age one, the reverse appears to be true. Those youngsters who were born below normal weight but gained weight rapidly after their first birthday faced an increased risk of heart disease later in life.

The finding suggests that better nutrition and feeding habits in infancy can potentially ward off heart disease.

``Feeding practice seems to matter,"" lead author Dr. Johan Eriksson told Reuters Health, ``and parents can do a great deal to decrease the risk for coronary heart disease among their offspring later in life.""

Based on these results, Eriksson had these words of advice for parents: ``It is important to promote weight gain in infancy among those born small for gestational age. This is standard medical practice. However, the problem arises when this rapid weight gain continues, and, therefore, I would say that it is extremely important to prevent rapid weight gain after infancy, especially among boys who were thin at birth.""

Doctors have long known that low birth weight brings an increased risk of heart disease later on, but little is known about the impact of early weight gain and later heart disease, according to Eriksson, from the National Public Health Institute in Helsinki, Finland and associates.

Eriksson and his team looked at a group of more than 4,000 men including 357 who were hospitalized or died because of heart disease. All had participated in clinics in their youth that recorded their height and weight from birth until age 12.

According to the report in the April 21st issue of the British Medical Journal, the risk of later heart disease was substantially higher--about three to four times higher--among adults who weighed less than 2500 grams (about 5 pounds) at birth. Children who were also underweight at age 1--regardless of their birth weight--faced an 82% higher risk of later heart disease than did children who weighed the most at age one.

Boys who were small at birth and gained weight at a faster-than-normal rate after age one also had a higher risk of developing heart disease as adults, the authors report.

SOURCE: British Medical Journal 2001;322:949-953.


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