Background: Reduced birthweight is associated with increased risk for the insulin resistance syndrome. Part of this risk is hypothesized to originate from undernutrition in utero. The prevalence of the insulin resistance syndrome increases in countries that undergo the transition from chronic malnutrition to adequate nutrition, when postnatal nutrition improves more rapidly than prenatal nutrition.
Objective: To determine whether the components of the insulin resistance syndrome are associated with reduced fetal growth and maternal undernutrition.
Design: A nonconcurrent, prospective study of men and women whose mothers' heights and weights were recorded during pregnancy.
Setting: Beijing, China.
Participants: 627 men and women (mean age, 45 years) whose mothers' obstetric records were preserved.
Measurements: Adult offspring's blood pressure, plasma glucose levels, insulin levels, and lipid concentrations during an oral glucose tolerance test. The main explanatory measurements were mothers' body mass index during pregnancy and offspring's birthweight and adult size.
Results: After adjustment for sex and current body mass index, low birthweight was associated with elevated plasma glucose levels, insulin levels, triglyceride concentrations, and blood pressure. For every 1-kg increase in birthweight, systolic blood pressure decreased by 2.9 mm Hg (95% CI, 0.3 to 5.4 mm Hg) and the 2-hour plasma glucose level decreased by 5.1% (CI, 0.7% to 9.3%). Low maternal body mass index in early and late pregnancy was associated with elevated levels of plasma glucose, insulin, and triglycerides in adult offspring but was not associated with elevated blood pressure.
Conclusions: Risk for the insulin resistance syndrome may be partially established through low maternal body mass before pregnancy and consequent fetal undernutrition. This risk is independent of that associated with adult obesity. In developing countries such as China, improved nutrition in girls and young women may offer long-term benefits to offspring.