Opposing influences of prenatal and postnatal weight gain on adrenarche in normal boys and girls

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2004 Jun;89(6):2647-51. doi: 10.1210/jc.2003-031848.


Associations between low birth weight and higher adrenal androgen secretion before puberty have yet only been reported in case-control studies in girls. We examined the influence of birth weight and early postnatal weight gain on overnight-fasting adrenal androgen and cortisol levels in 770 children from a large normal United Kingdom birth cohort at age 8 yr. In univariate analyses, adrenal androgen levels were inversely related to birth weight sd score in each sex [dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate in boys: regression coefficient (B) = -2.5 microg/dl/SD; 95% confidence interval (CI), -4.7 to -0.2; in girls: B = -3.8 microg/dl/SD; 95% CI, -6.2 to -1.4; androstenedione in boys: B = -0.15 nmol/liter/sd, 95% CI, -0.25 to -0.6; in girls: B = -0.13 nmol/liter/SD; 95% CI, -0.24 to -0.02). In multivariate analyses, both lower birth weight and larger current body weight predicted higher adrenal androgen levels (P < 0.005 for all comparisons). Allowing for current weight, children who showed rapid postnatal weight gain between 0 and 3 yr had higher dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (P = 0.002) and androstenedione (P = 0.004) levels at 8 yr. In contrast, cortisol levels were unrelated to birth weight or current body size. In summary, the relationship between lower birth weight and higher childhood adrenal androgen levels was continuous throughout the range of normal birth weights, and was similar in boys and girls. Adrenal androgen levels were highest in small infants who gained weight rapidly during early childhood. We suggest that higher adrenal androgen secretion could contribute to links between early growth and adult disease risks, possibly by enhancing insulin resistance and central fat deposition.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex / growth & development
  • Adrenal Cortex / metabolism
  • Androstenedione / blood*
  • Androstenedione / metabolism
  • Birth Weight / physiology*
  • Body Constitution
  • Body Weight / physiology*
  • Child
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate / blood*
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Pregnancy
  • Prospective Studies
  • Weight Gain / physiology*


  • Androstenedione
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate
  • Hydrocortisone