Linda S. Adair, PhD, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and colleagues used data from 8,362 participants of five prospective birth cohort studies from Brazil, Guatemala, India, the Philippines, and South Africa. Body mass index, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, plasma glucose concentration, height, and years of attained schooling were assessed.
The researchers found that higher birth weight was consistently associated with an adult body mass index of greater than 25 kg/m² (odds ratio [OR], 1.28) and a reduced likelihood of short adult stature (OR, 0.49) and of not completing secondary school (OR, 0.82). There was a strong association between faster linear growth and a reduced risk of short adult stature (growth spurt occurring from birth to age 2 years OR, =0.23; growth spurt occurring during mid-childhood OR, 0.39), and of not completing secondary school (age 2 years OR, 0.74; mid-childhood OR, 0.87). Faster linear growth was also associated with an increased likelihood of being overweight (age 2 years OR, 1.24; mid-childhood OR, 1.12) and elevated blood pressure (age 2 years OR, 1.12; mid-childhood OR, 1.07). There was similarly an association with an increased risk of being overweight as an adult (age 2 years OR, 1.51; mid-childhood OR, 1.76) and elevated blood pressure (age 2 years OR, 1.07; mid-childhood OR, 1.22). There was no association between linear growth and relative weight gain with dysglycaemia, although a higher birth weight was associated with decreased risk of the disorder (OR, 0.89).
"Interventions in countries of low and middle income to increase birth weight and linear growth during the first two years of life are likely to result in substantial gains in height and schooling and give some protection from adult chronic disease risk factors, with few adverse trade-offs," the authors write.