Birthweight in offspring and cardiovascular mortality in their parents, aunts and uncles: a family-based cohort study of 1.35 million births

Int J Epidemiol. 2020 Feb 1;49(1):205-215. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyz156.


Background: A link between suboptimal fetal growth and higher risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) is well documented. It has been difficult to assess the contribution of environmental versus genetic factors to the association, as these factors are closely connected in nuclear families. We investigated the association between offspring birthweight and CVD mortality in parents, aunts and uncles, and examined whether these associations are explained by CVD risk factors.

Methods: We linked Norwegian data from the Medical Birth Registry, the Cause of Death Registry and cardiovascular surveys. A total of 1 353 956 births (1967-2012) were linked to parents and one maternal and one paternal aunt/uncle. Offspring birthweight and CVD mortality association among all relationships was assessed by hazard ratios (HR) from Cox regressions. The influence of CVD risk factors on the associations was examined in a subgroup.

Results: Offspring birthweight was inversely associated with CVD mortality among parents and aunts/uncles. HR of CVD mortality for one standard deviation (SD) increase in offspring birthweight was 0.72 (0.69-0.75) in mothers and 0.89 (0.86-0.92) in fathers. In aunts/uncles, the HRs were between 0.90 (0.86-0.95) and 0.93 (0.91-0.95). Adjustment for CVD risk factors in a subgroup attenuated all the associations.

Conclusions: Birthweight was associated with increased risk of CVD in parents and in aunts/uncles. These associations were largely explained by CVD risk factors. Our findings suggest that associations between offspring birthweight and CVD in adult relatives involve both behavioural variables (especially smoking) and shared genetics relating to established CVD risk factors.

Keywords: Birthweight; CVD mortality; aunts/uncles; parents.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Birth Weight / genetics
  • Birth Weight / physiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality*
  • Family*
  • Fathers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longevity / physiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality
  • Mothers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Registries
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Time Factors