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Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol. 2005 Jul;19(4):294-302.

Maternal body composition, offspring blood pressure and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.

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  • 1MRC Environmental Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, Southampton General Hospital, Southampton, UK.


We tested the hypothesis that women who are thin or have poor pregnancy weight gain have offspring with higher blood pressure and examined whether this link is mediated by increased secretion of cortisol. We studied a cohort of 388 children born in Kingston, Jamaica. From hospital records we obtained information about their mother's body mass index (BMI) and weight gain during pregnancy. At age 8.5 years we measured the children's fasting plasma cortisol concentrations and blood pressure and assessed their mother's anthropometry. There were no relationships between the mother's BMI or weight gain during pregnancy and offspring blood pressure. However, mothers with a greater subscapular to triceps skinfold thickness ratio (SSTR) had offspring with higher blood pressure (5.6 mmHg systolic and 3.7 mmHg diastolic increase per unit change in SSTR, P = 0.002 and P = 0.008 respectively). Fasting plasma cortisol concentrations correlated with the children's systolic (r = 0.33, P < 0.0001) and diastolic pressures (r = 0.12, P = 0.02) independently of age, gender, weight or socio-economic status and were also predicted by the mother's SSTR. These findings suggest that maternal truncal obesity rather than thinness is associated with raised blood pressure in the offspring, and that this link may be mediated by increased cortisol secretion.

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