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Pediatr Res. 2005 Feb;57(2):211-5. Epub 2004 Dec 20.

Altered adiposity after extremely preterm birth.

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Division of Paediatrics, Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London, Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, 369 Fulham Rd., London SW10 9NH, UK.


The quantity and distribution of adipose tissue are markers of morbidity risk. The third trimester of human development is a period of rapid adipose tissue deposition. Preterm infants may be at risk of altered adiposity. We measured anthropometric indices and quantified total, subcutaneous, and intraabdominal adipose tissue volumes using whole-body magnetic resonance adipose tissue imaging in 38 infants born at <32 wk gestational age, when they reached term, and 29 term-born infants. The preterm infants at term were significantly lighter and shorter than the term-born infants, but there was no significant difference in head circumference SD score or total adiposity. The preterm infants had a highly significant decrease in subcutaneous adipose tissue and significantly increased intraabdominal adipose tissue. Accelerated postnatal weight gain was accompanied by increased total and subcutaneous adiposity. Illness severity was the principal determinant of increased intraabdominal adiposity. Our data provide evidence of causal pathways linking accelerated postnatal growth with increased total and subcutaneous adiposity, and illness severity with altered adipose tissue partitioning. We suggest that these observations may in part explain the associations between small size at birth and later disease. Preterm infants may be at risk in later life of metabolic complications through increased and aberrant adiposity.

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