Low birth weight tied to poorer CV outcomes later in life

Low birth weight is associated with poorer health outcomes—including CVD—later in life, according to a study out of West Virginia University.

Amna Umer, MPH, PhD, a research assistant professor at WVU, and her colleagues scrutinized data from 20,000 fifth-graders born in West Virginia in an attempt to establish a link between birth weight and cardiovascular outcomes. The team pulled their information from three sources, including West Virginia birth certificates, the West Virginia WATCH/Birth Score program and the CARDIAC project.

All kids in the study were born full-term between 1994 and 2010, and Umer et al. evaluated each participant’s birth weight, BMI in fifth grade, triglyceride levels and cholesterol.

“Previously it was thought that risk factors for cardiovascular diseases were only observed in adults because cardiovascular disease is mostly seen in adults,” Umer said in a release. “But in the past few years, we’ve seen that these risk factors are observed in children, as well.”

The authors found that lower birth weight was associated with higher levels of “bad” LDL-cholesterol and lower levels of “good” HDL-cholesterol. Kids born at a lower weight were also more likely to have higher triglycerides, which puts them at an increased risk for heart attack, stroke, peripheral artery disease and atherosclerosis.

The relationship between birth weight and CVD risk seemed to persist even after adjustment for children’s BMIs, sociodemographics, family medical histories and other factors, Umer said.

The authors noted in the Journal of Development Origins of Health and Disease that their findings are particularly applicable to West Virginia, where one in every 10 babies is born at a low weight. West Virginia also has the tenth-highest rate of death from heart disease in the U.S. and the twelfth-highest rate of death from stroke, but Umer said low birth weight isn’t necessarily affirmation that a baby will grow up to develop one of those diseases.

“We don’t want to say that once you have a low birth weight, there’s nothing you can do,” she 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.”