How your birth weight influences your health as an adult

Peter Terlato 29 September 2016

Baby weight

Genetics help explain the connection between low birth weights and later-in-life diseases.

A new international study has found a genetic link between birth weight and ill health later in life, although the heightened risk of disease is relatively low.

The research was jointly led by The University of Queensland's Diamantina Institute (UQDI), together with a consortium of analysts from 17 countries.

The study evaluated the genetic differences of around 154,000 people, correlated with birth weight data and earlier studies on heart disease and diabetes.

The scientists identified 60 variants associated with birth weight, concluding at least one-sixth of the differences in birth weight between babies could be due to genetic variation.

UQDI head of genomic medicine and joint senior research author Professor David Evans said the genetic regions associated with low birth weight coincided with those linked to an individual's chance of developing adult diseases.

"Although the increased risk of later heart disease or diabetes is relatively small, these findings could be important in terms of future prevention and treatments for these growing health problems," Dr Evans said.

Joint lead research author Dr Nicole Warrington said previous research had mainly focused on the nutrition available to the fetus and the environment established by the mother.

"We will continue to gather more pieces of the puzzle to give us insight into how the genetic profiles of the mother and the baby act together to modify the baby's weight," Dr Warrington said.

The research report was published in international weekly science journal Nature.

Heart disease and diabetes, along with lung cancer and dementia, are responsible for the most deaths in Australia. And while more Australians are quitting smoking, our diets are worse than ever.

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