Parents' growth in childhood and the birth weight of their offspring

Epidemiology. 2004 May;15(3):308-16. doi: 10.1097/01.ede.0000120042.16363.e3.


Background: A person's birth weight is inversely related to both their own and their parents' cardiovascular disease mortality risk, but mechanisms underlying such transgenerational associations are unclear. We investigated the influence of the childhood growth of the mother or father on the birth weight of their first-born offspring.

Methods: We used data from the long-term follow up (in 1997-1998) of 4999 children from 1352 families who participated in the Boyd Orr Survey of Diet and Health in Pre-War Britain (1937-1939). Complete information on childhood height, potential confounding variables, and the birth weight of first-born offspring was available for 637 subjects.

Results: Mother's height in childhood was positively associated with her offspring's birth weight. Leg length, but not trunk length, was the component of maternal height associated with offspring birth weight. For each unit increase in z-score for maternal childhood leg length, there was a 96-g (95% confidence interval = 6-186) increase in offspring birth weight after controlling for childhood socioeconomic variables and adult height. There were weaker positive associations of paternal height and leg length in childhood with offspring birth weight. Associations were not confounded by maternal birth weight or midgrandparental height.

Conclusions: Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that maternal growth during childhood influences offspring birth weight, independently of maternal birth weight, final attained height, or midgrandparental height. Because leg length is a sensitive marker of adverse nutritional and social exposures during childhood, these results suggest a key role for a mother's early environmental exposures as a determinant of her child's subsequent health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Anthropometry*
  • Birth Weight*
  • Body Height
  • Body Weight
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Growth / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mother-Child Relations
  • Parents
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Sex Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United Kingdom