Objective: To examine body size and fat measurements of babies born in rural India and compare them with white Caucasian babies born in an industrialised country.
Design: Community-based observational study in rural India, and comparison with data from an earlier study in the UK, measured using similar methods.
Subjects: A total of 631 term babies born in six rural villages, near the city of Pune, Maharashtra, India, and 338 term babies born in the Princess Anne Hospital, Southampton, UK.
Measurements: Maternal weight and height, and neonatal weight, length, head, mid-upper-arm and abdominal circumferences, subscapular and triceps skinfold thicknesses, and placental weight.
Results: The Indian mothers were younger, lighter, shorter and had a lower mean body mass index (BMI) (mean age, weight, height and BMI: 21.4 y, 44.6 kg, 1.52 m, and 18.2 kg/m(2)) than Southampton mothers (26.8 y, 63.6 kg, 1.63 m and 23.4 kg/m(2)). They gave birth to lighter babies (mean birthweight: 2.7 kg compared with 3.5 kg). Compared to Southampton babies, the Indian babies were small in all body measurements, the smallest being abdominal circumference (s.d. score: -2.38; 95% CI: -2.48 to -2.29) and mid-arm circumference (s.d. score: -1.82; 95% CI: -1.89 to -1.75), while the most preserved measurement was the subscapular skinfold thickness (s.d. score: -0.53; 95% CI: -0.61 to -0.46). Skinfolds were relatively preserved in the lightest babies (below the 10th percentile of birthweight) in both populations.
Conclusions: Small Indian babies have small abdominal viscera and low muscle mass, but preserve body fat during their intrauterine development. This body composition may persist postnatally and predispose to an insulin-resistant state.