March 1, 2007
Norwich, UK – A new British study has shown that early life exposures—such as stress, infection, and poor nutrition—that restrict height growth in the first two years of life have a secondary effect, resulting in a poorer lipid profile in adulthood . Growth after the age of 15 also played an important role in determining future cholesterol levels.
This is the first research to include multiple measures of body size over the life course of older adults, say Dr Paula M Skidmore (University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK) and colleagues in their paper in the March 2007 issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
„We also found that the most disadvantaged were those people who were smallest as babies but biggest as adults,“ Skidmore told heartwire.
Tallest few had best total and LDL cholesterol profiles
Skidmore et al analyzed 2311 men and women from the Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD), which measured height and BMI at two, four, seven, 11, 15, and 36 years in relation to total, LDL, and HDL cholesterol at 53 years, using a growth-velocities approach. They adjusted for potentially confounding variables, including social class and birth weight.
Skidmore explained that everyone has an optimum height potential and that it is leg length, rather than trunk length, that determines height in adulthood.
They found that taller adult height—which was determined by longer leg length—was associated with lower adult total- and LDL-cholesterol levels and that tall height at two years and rapid growth in height after the age of 15 years were particularly protective.
„No other studies have reported the effects of several different periods of height growth on lipids,“ they note.
Skidmore told heartwire that those who were tallest until the age of two and after the age of 15 had 6% to 10% lower total-cholesterol levels than those of average height at both ages.
Those with poor early growth should avoid becoming overweight
The researchers also found that those with higher BMI at 36 and 53 and greater BMI increases between the ages of 15 and 36 and 36 and 53 years had higher levels of both total and LDL cholesterol, a finding in agreement with previous studies. But they also showed an inverse relationship between BMI measures at these ages and HDL levels; Skidmore told heartwire this is the first study to document this.
And they found an interaction between birth weight and BMI change at ages 36 and 53, suggesting that the positive association of BMI change with total cholesterol levels is stronger in those of low birth weight. „This is consistent with a programming effect, where those who are born small and become overweight are at particular risk of cardiovascular disease,“ they comment.
„In those with poor early height growth who have higher total- and LDL-cholesterol levels, it may be particularly important to prevent fast BMI increases during adulthood, which have a detrimental impact on HDL as well as total and LDL cholesterol,“ the researchers conclude.
Source:  Skidmore PM, Hardy RJ, Kuh DJ, et al. Life course body size and lipid levels at 53 years in a British birth cohort. J Epidemiol Community Health 2007; 61:215-220.