Background: Previous studies have shown markedly lower birth weight among infants of South Asian origin compared with those of White European origin. Whether such differences mask greater adiposity in South Asian infants and whether they persist across generations in contemporary UK populations is unclear. Our aim was to compare birth weight, skinfold thickness and cord leptin between Pakistani and White British infants and to investigate the explanatory factors, including parental and grandparental birthplace.
Methods: We examined the differences in birth weight and skinfold thickness between 4649 Pakistani and 4055 White British infants born at term in the same UK maternity unit and compared cord leptin in a subgroup of 775 Pakistani and 612 White British infants.
Results: Pakistani infants were lighter (adjusted mean difference -234 g 95% CI -258 to -210) and were smaller in both subscapular and triceps skinfold measurements. The differences for subscapular and triceps skinfold thickness (mean z-score difference -0.27 95% CI -0.34 to -0.20 and -0.23 95% CI -0.30 to -0.16, respectively) were smaller than the difference in birth weight (mean z-score difference -0.52 95% CI -0.58 to -0.47) and attenuated to the null with adjustment for birth weight (0.03 95% CI -0.03 to 0.09 and -0.01 95% CI -0.08 to 0.05, respectively). Cord leptin concentration (indicator of fat mass) was similar in Pakistani and White British infants without adjustment for birth weight, but with adjustment became 30% higher (95% CI 17% to 44%) among Pakistani infants compared with White British infants. The magnitudes of difference did not differ by generation.
Conclusions: Despite being markedly lighter, Pakistani infants had similar skinfold thicknesses and greater total fat mass, as indicated by cord leptin, for a given birth weight than White British infants. Any efforts to reduce ethnic inequalities in birth weight need to consider differences in adiposity and the possibility that increasing birth weight in South Asian infants might inadvertently worsen health by increasing relative adiposity.
Keywords: BIRTH WEIGHT; EPIDEMIOLOGY; ETHNICITY.