There is a genetic link between birth weight and susceptibility to adult diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, a global research project has found.
The ground-breaking study also identifies the genetic differences that help to explain why some babies are born bigger or smaller than others.
The Director of the University of South Australia’s Centre for Population Health, Professor Elina Hypponen, was a senior collaborator on the project.
After analysing the genomes of nearly 154,000 people from across the world, researchers found a substantial proportion (at least one-sixth) of the variation in birth weight is due to genetic differences.
This is seven to eight times more variation than can be explained by environmental factors such as the mother smoking during pregnancy or her body mass index (a measure of obesity) before pregnancy.
“Babies who are born very small are at increased risk of diabetes and heart disease later in life. In other words, risk of disease can be ‘programmed’ by events in early life,” Professor Hypponen said.
“These types of long term health effects of birth weight have been typically taken to reflect the impact of the nutritional environment in which the foetus develops.”
“Our study suggests that the link between birth weight and later risk of disease will actually be, at least in part, due to shared genetic factors.”
You can read more about the study’s findings here. [Story credit University of South Australia media centre]
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