| Birth Weight Tied to
Risk of Adulthood Stress
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) -
Lower birth weight and slower weight gain early in life may be
associated with poorer psychological health in adulthood, new
The study of more than 9,700 UK adults followed since birth found
that as birth weight increased, the risk of psychological distress
in adulthood declined. The same association was found for weight
gain until the age of 7, according to findings published in the
October 5th issue of the British Medical Journal.
On a brighter note, though,
the study authors also found that relatively rapid weight gain
after birth may compensate for the potential ill effect of lower
birth weight on later psychological health. They note that small
size at birth is usually followed by some degree of "postnatal
Exactly why lower birth
weight and poorer weight gain might affect psychological health
down the road is unclear. One hypothesis is that early "growth
failure" leads to changes in stress hormones, Yin Bun Cheung,
the study's lead author, told Reuters Health.
Cheung, a researcher
at the National Cancer Center in Singapore, explained that in
some research, children with impaired growth have been found to
have higher concentrations of the hormone cortisol and to be "more
responsive" to stressful situations.
"The main contribution
of the present study is to show that the relation persists into
middle age," said Cheung.
The findings are based
on data from UK adults who were followed from birth in 1958 until
at least age 23, and up to age 42. As adults, participants filled
out a questionnaire on psychological and physical health that
gauged their levels of distress.
Overall, about 6% of
men showed "high distress" at age 23, as did 18% of women, based
on psychological test scores. At age 42, about 15% of men and
22% of women were considered highly distressed.
When the researchers
looked at participants' birth weights, they found that as these
weights increased, the risk of adulthood psychological distress
dipped. The same was true of weight gain by age 7.
According to Cheung's
team, these findings echo those of an earlier study in which higher
birth weight was tied to a lower risk of psychological distress
at age 26. They add that the study is "in line with the hypothesis
that people with impaired growth early in life will become more
susceptible to stress."
However, the researchers
point out, the findings also suggest that "the impact of smaller
size at birth is partly compensated by a higher weight gain in
According to Cheung,
the researchers may conduct similar studies of populations in
Singapore and Hong Kong to see whether these findings extend to
other ethnic groups and cultures.
SOURCE: British Medical
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