Background: Although studies showed that an adverse intrauterine environment increases the obesity risk in adulthood, little is known about consequences of fetal growth and birth size for eating behaviour. We examined whether fetal and birth size are associated with childhood eating behaviour.
Methods: Participants were 4350 mother-child dyads of the prospective cohort study Generation R. We assessed the relation between fetal and birth size measurements with child eating behaviour at age 4 years by maternal report on the Child Eating Behaviour Questionnaire. Child body mass index (BMI) was measured at age 2 years.
Results: Per one standard deviation (SD) larger birthweight, children scored lower on Satiety Responsiveness [-0.29 points; 95% confidence interval (CI): -0.39; -0.18], higher on Food Responsiveness (0.28 points; 95% CI: 0.17; 0.39) and on Enjoyment of Food (0.21 points; 95% CI: 0.12; 0.31) at age 4 years. Similar associations were found in late pregnancy. Per one SD increase in fetal growth from late pregnancy to birth, children scored lower on Satiety Responsiveness (-0.15 points; 95% CI: -0.26; -0.04). Children within the 10% highest birthweight scored higher on food approach and lower on food avoidant scales, whereas associations in children within the 10% lowest birthweights were absent. Although child BMI partly mediated the association, direct effects of birthweight on appetitive traits remained.
Conclusions: This study indicates that fetal size, especially being large in utero, is associated with obesity-inducing eating behaviour. Our findings point to intrauterine influences on appetite and satiety, and contribute to understanding the complex aetiology of obesity.
Keywords: Fetal size; birth size; childhood eating behaviour; obesity.
© The Author 2018; all rights reserved. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Epidemiological Association.