Background: Fetal growth restriction (FGR) followed by rapid weight gain during early life has been suggested to be the initial sequence promoting central adiposity and insulin resistance. However, the link between fetal and early postnatal growth and the associated anthropometric and metabolic changes have been poorly studied.
Methodology/principal findings: Over the first year of post-natal life, changes in body mass index, skinfold thickness and hormonal concentrations were prospectively monitored in 94 infants in whom the fetal growth velocity had previously been measured using a repeated standardized procedure of ultrasound fetal measurements. 45 infants, thinner at birth, had experienced previous FGR (FGR+) regardless of birth weight. Growth pattern in the first four months of life was characterized by greater change in BMI z-score in FGR+ (+1.26+/-1.2 vs +0.58 +/-1.17 SD in FGR-) resulting in the restoration of BMI and of fat mass to values similar to FGR-, independently of caloric intakes. Growth velocity after 4 months was similar and BMI z-score and fat mass remained similar at 12 months of age. At both time-points, fetal growth velocity was an independent predictor of fat mass in FGR+. At one year, fasting insulin levels were not different but leptin was significantly higher in the FGR+ (4.43+/-1.41 vs 2.63+/-1 ng/ml in FGR-).
Conclusion: Early catch-up growth is related to the fetal growth pattern itself, irrespective of birth weight, and is associated with higher insulin sensitivity and lower leptin levels after birth. Catch-up growth promotes the restoration of body size and fat stores without detrimental consequences at one year of age on body composition or metabolic profile. The higher leptin concentration at one year may reflect a positive energy balance in children who previously faced fetal growth restriction.