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Birth weight key factor in heart diseases

Sluggish growth in the first year of a boy's life greatly increases the risk of heart diseases as an adult, according to a study of Finnish children.

The key factor in heart disease is not how much you weigh now, but how you grew in the past. It's long been known that babies with a low birth weight are roughly twice as susceptible to coronary heart disease in adulthood as heavier babies.//

David Barker, an epidemologist at the University of Southampton, and a team at the National Public Health Institute in Helsinki looked at records of 4630 boys born in a Finnish Hospital between 1934 and 1944, of whom 357 developed heart disease as adults.

Poor growth during the first year appeared to increase a boy's risk of heart disease in adulthood, regardless of whether he was born heavy or light. According to Barker, if all the boys had been the right birth weight and acheived average size by the time they were a year old, the amount of coronary heart disease would have halved.

If a low birth weight baby put on weight rapidly after his first birthday, the risk of adult heart disease increased further. This is because of poor nourishment in the womb which probably makes a foetus divert resources from muscle development to the brain.

So, the lightweight baby will have a tendency to put on fat after birth and develop a body type prone to heart disease. Barker says this highlights the fact that it's not your weight but how you arrived, as it is that determines your heart disease risk. 'It is the journey to being overweight that matters-that has profounded implications for public health' he says.

Hence, he urges health workers to return to the tradition of keeping meticulous records to the size of babies so that they can assess the risks of later heart trouble.


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