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Child body size linked to later risk of disease

Thursday May 7th, 2020

Children with a high body mass index face an increased risk of developing diseases such as heart disease and diabetes in later life, researchers say today.

Researchers at the University of Bristol, UK, used Mendelian randomisation to examine the genetic influence of body size in early life on risk of coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, breast and prostate cancer.

They examined data of more than 450,000 people from the UK Biobank, looking at BMI in adulthood – with an average age of 57 – and self-reported perceived body size at age 10, as well as more than 700,000 individuals from four large scale genome-wide association studies.

Writing in The BMJ, the research team found that one’s size in childhood is associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes.

However, when early life body size was analysed alongside adult body size, the effects were significantly reduced, which, say the researchers, suggests that the increased risk is most likely in those with a large body size in childhood remain large in later life.

They found strong evidence that larger early life body size has a protective effect on risk of breast cancer, although timing of puberty might play an important role in this, which they say requires further investigation. However, the team found no strong evidence of a causal effect of either early or later life measures on prostate cancer.

Although relying on self-reported early life body size may have affected the accuracy of their estimates, the researchers are confident the large number of participants and the sophisticated analytical methods used add credence to their findings.

They add the positive association between body size in childhood and risk of coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes in adulthood can be attributed to individuals who continue to be large in later life.

Richardson T, Sanderson E, Elsworth B et al. Use of genetic variation to separate the effects of early and later life adiposity on disease risk: mendelian randomisation study. BMJ 7 May 2020

https://www.bmj.com/content/369/bmj.m1203

Tags: Child Health | Diet & Food | UK News

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