Age when a woman's periods start may affect her children's growth rate

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A new study published in PLoS Medicine suggests that the age when a woman's periods start may affect her children's growth rate during childhood, final height and risk of obesity in later life.

Researchers from the Medical Research Council and University of Cambridge, led by Dr Ken Ong, studied the association between mother's age at first menstruation, mother's adult body size and obesity risk, and children's growth and obesity risk in 6,009 children from the UK Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) in Bristol.

In mothers, earlier age of periods was associated with shorter adult height, increased weight, and body mass index compared with women whose periods started later. The children of women whose periods started earlier had a faster growth tempo, characterised by rapid weight gain and growth, particularly during infancy, which led to taller childhood stature. However this pattern of childhood growth is likely to result in earlier maturation and therefore shorter adult stature. This growth pattern is known to confer an increased risk of childhood and adult obesity.

The researchers conclude that "earlier age at menarche may indicate a transgenerational influence toward a faster tempo of childhood growth, which is transmitted from the mother to her offspring" and that "understanding the genetic, epigenetic, or behavioural factors that underlie this process will identify processes that regulate both the timing of puberty and the risk of childhood-onset obesity."

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