Children with low birth weight more at risk of cardiovascular diseases, says study

A new study by West Virginia University finds that fifth-graders born with low body weight are more likely to exhibit cardiovascular risk factors


                            Children with low birth weight more at risk of cardiovascular diseases, says study

Children who weigh less during birth are more likely to exhibit cardiovascular risk factors, according to a new research published in the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease.  

By assessing data of 20,000 fifth-graders born in West Virginia, scientists from West Virginia University, explain that children who weigh less during birth show risk factors for cardiovascular diseases (CVD) in the fifth grade. The children in the study were all born between 1994 and 2010, across West Virginia's 55 counties.

CVD are diseases of the heart and blood vessels, including coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, rheumatic heart disease and the like. According to WHO, 17.9 million people die every year due to CVD, which is an estimated 31 percent of all deaths worldwide. In the United States, over one-third of the population has the disease. The risk factors for CVD are high blood pressure, diabetes, lipid, smoking and obesity.

"Previously it was thought that risk factors for cardiovascular diseases were only observed in adults because cardiovascular disease is mostly seen in adults," said Amna Umer, a research assistant professor in the School of Medicine's Department of Pediatrics.

"But in the past few years, we've seen that these risk factors are observed in children as well."

Earlier studies have shown that children with low body weight at birth are susceptible to heart diseases later in their adulthood. For instance, according to a study, men with birth weight of 2500 g or less were more at risk of dying from myocardial infarction at 60 years compared to men born with weight of 4300 g or higher.

For the current study, scientists accessed data from three sources: West Virginia birth certificates, the West Virginia WATCH/Birth Score program and the CARDIAC project. They factored in each child's weight at birth and each child's weight and Body Mass Index in the fifth grade. Additionally, they measured the levels of fat circulating in the blood called triglycerides and other cholesterol types.

Their results show that children weighing less had more bad cholesterol or Low Density Lipoprotein (HDL) than the good cholesterol or High Density Lipoprotein (HDL). Patients with Cornary Heart Disease commonly have low levels of HDL. The children also had high levels of triglycerides, all of which are risk factors for heart attack, stroke, atherosclerosis and other disorders.

“Low birth weight doesn’t just happen at birth spontaneously,” said Christa Lilly, a member of the research team and an associate professor of biostatistics in the School of Public Health. “It’s a sign of slow growth in the womb. So, I think there’s an opportunity for intervening during pregnancy to reduce factors that can influence suboptimal fetal growth.”

But there is more. “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.”

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