Factors contributing to childhood adiposity begin before birth, study shows

A new article, published in the journal BMC Medicine, reports the largest epigenome-wide association study to date that provides evidence that factors contributing to childhood adiposity (level of body fat) begin before birth and are influenced by mother’s lifestyle, and fetal genetic and epigenetic factors.

These factors, alone and in combination with each other, could have pre-determined effects on a child’s size, adiposity and future metabolic outcomes later in life. These pre-birth determinants could be used to identify individuals susceptible to obesity and at risk of metabolic disease later in life.

Researchers from the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences assessed the association of maternal   lifestyle and environmental factors, fetal epigenetics, and fetal genetics on birth weight and adiposity in early childhood. The study, conducted in an Asian population, involved 987 mothers and their offspring, making it the largest study of its kind to date.

The key findings were:

  1. Eleven of 30 maternal factors, including maternal adiposity, smoking, blood glucose and plasma unsaturated fatty acid levels influenced birth weight.
  2. Analysis of fetal DNA (from umbilical cord blood) revealed that genetic markers commonly associated with high BMI in adults were detectable in fetal DNA and found to be related to birth weight and adiposity in childhood.
  3. DNA methylation patterns from fetal DNA revealed several regions of DNA that were associated with BMI at birth and child weight during early development (between 3 and 48 months years old).The methylation pattern at three of these identified regions were also associated with maternal factors including smoking, blood glucose levels and BMI.

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