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Pediatr Res. 2001 Apr;49(4):490-4.

Effects of altitude versus economic status on birth weight and body shape at birth.

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  • 1Department of Physiology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EG, United Kingdom. dag26@cam.ac.uk

Abstract

The compelling evidence linking small size at birth with later cardiovascular disease has renewed and amplified a clinical and scientific interest in the determinants of fetal growth. Although the effects of maternal nutrition on fetal growth have been extensively studied, comparatively little is known about the effects of maternofetal hypoxia. This study tested the hypothesis that in highland regions, high altitude rather than maternal economic status is associated with reduced and altered fetal growth by investigating the effects of high altitude versus economic status on birth weight and body shape at birth in Bolivia. Bolivia is geographically and socioeconomically unique. It contains several highland (>3500 m above sea level) and lowland (<500 m) cities that are inhabited by very economically divergent populations. Birth weight, body length, and head circumference were compared between a high- (n = 100) and low- (n = 100) income region of La Paz (3649 m; largest high-altitude city) and a high- (n = 100) and low- (n = 100) income region of Santa Cruz (437 m; largest low-altitude city). In addition, the frequency distribution across the continuum of birth weights was plotted for babies born from high- and low-income families in La Paz and Santa Cruz. Mean birth weights were lower in babies from La Paz than in babies from Santa Cruz in both high- and low-income groups. The cumulative frequency curve across all compiled birth weights was shifted to the left in babies from La Paz compared with those from Santa Cruz, regardless of economic status. The frequency of low birth weight (<2500 g) was higher in babies from La Paz than from Santa Cruz in both high- and low-income groups. In addition, at high altitude but not at low altitude, high income was associated with an increase in the head circumference:birth weight ratio. These findings suggest that high altitude rather than economic status is associated with low birth weight and altered body shape at birth in babies from Bolivia.

PMID:
11264431
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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