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Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Sep;86(3):618-24.

Fetal programming of body dimensions and percentage body fat measured in prepubertal children with a 4-component model of body composition, dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, deuterium dilution, densitometry, and skinfold thicknesses.

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  • 1Institute of Human Nutrition, University of Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom.



Intrauterine programming of body composition [percentage body fat (%BF)] has been sparsely examined with multiple independent reference techniques in children. The effects on and consequences of body build (dimensions, mass, and length of body segments) are unclear.


The study examined whether percentage fat and relation of percentage fat to body mass index (BMI; in kg/m2) in prepubertal children are programmed during intrauterine development and are dependent on body build. It also aimed to examine the extent to which height can be predicted by parental height and birth weight.


Eighty-five white children (44 boys, 41 girls; aged 6.5-9.1 y) had body composition measured with a 4-component model (n = 58), dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (n = 84), deuterium dilution (n = 81), densitometry (n = 62), and skinfold thicknesses (n = 85).


An increase in birth weight of 1 SD was associated with a decrease of 1.95% fat as measured by the 4-component model (P = 0.012) and 0.82-2.75% by the other techniques. These associations were independent of age, sex, socioeconomic status, physical activity, BMI, and body build. Body build did not decrease the strength of the associations. Birth weight was a significantly better predictor of height than was self-reported midparental height, accounting for 19.4% of the variability at 5 y of age and 10.3% at 7.8 y of age (17.8% and 8.8% of which were independent of parental height at these ages, respectively).


Consistent trends across body-composition measurement techniques add strength to the suggestion that percentage fat in prepubertal children is programmed in utero (independently of body build and BMI). It also suggests birth weight is a better predictor of prepubertal height than is self-reported midparental height.

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