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Int J Obes (Lond). 2006 Dec;30 Suppl 4:S36-40.

Adiposity in children born small for gestational age.

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Department of Physiology, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland; Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, Department of Medicine, Lausanne University Hospital, Lausanne, Switzerland.

Erratum in

  • Int J Obes (Lond). 2010 Jul;34(7):1230.


Epidemiological studies indicate that children born small for gestational age (SGA) have an increased risk of metabolic and cardiovascular disorders as adults. This suggests that foetal undernutrition leads to permanent metabolic alterations, which predispose to metabolic abnormalities upon exposure to environmental factors such as low physical activity and/or high-energy intake in later life (thrifty phenotype hypothesis). However, this relationship is not restricted to foetal undernutrition or intrauterine growth retardation, but is also found for children born premature, or for high birth weight children. Furthermore, early post-natal nutrition, and more specifically catch-up growth, appear to modulate cardiovascular risk as well. Intrauterine growth retardation can be induced in animal models by energy/protein restriction, or ligation of uterine arteries. In such models, altered glucose homeostasis, including low beta-cell mass, low insulin secretion and insulin resistance is observed after a few weeks of age. In humans, several studies have confirmed that children born SGA have insulin resistance as adolescents and young adults. Alterations of glucose homeostasis and increased lipid oxidation can indeed be observed already in non-diabetic children born SGA at early pubertal stages. These children also have alterations of stature and changes in body composition (increased fat mass), which may contribute to the pathogenesis of insulin resistance. Permanent metabolic changes induced by foetal/early neonatal nutrition (metabolic inprinting) may involve modulation of gene expression through DNA methylation, or alterations of organ structure. It is also possible that events occurring during foetal/neonatal development lead to long-lasting alterations of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis or the hypothalamo-pituitary-insulin-like growth factor-1 axis.

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