Send to

Choose Destination
PLoS One. 2020 Feb 4;15(2):e0228769. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0228769. eCollection 2020.

Prenatal and childhood predictors of hair cortisol concentration in mid-childhood and early adolescence.

Author information

Department of Epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America.
Department of Population Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America.
Diabetes Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America.
Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes and Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation, Maine Medical Center, Portland, Maine, United States of America.
Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America.
Erasmus University Medical Center-Sophia Children's Hospital, Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Department of Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America.



Hair cortisol concentration (HCC) is an increasingly used measure of systemic cortisol concentration. However, determinants of HCC in children and adolescents are unclear because few prospective studies have been conducted to date.


We followed 725 children in Project Viva, a pre-birth cohort study of mothers and children, who provided hair samples at mid-childhood (median age: 7.7 years) or early adolescence (median age: 12.9 years). We examined associations of various factors measured from pregnancy to mid-childhood with HCC in mid-childhood and early adolescence, as well as change in HCC between these time points (ΔHCC).


There were 426 children with HCC measurements in both mid-childhood and early adolescence, 173 children with measures only in mid-childhood, and 126 with measures only in early adolescence. HCC was lower in mid-childhood (median 1.0pg/mg [interquartile range, IQR: 0.5, 2.4]) than early adolescence (2.2pg/mg [1.1, 4.4]). In multivariable-adjusted regression models, female sex (β = -0.41, 95% CI: -0.67, -0.15) and birth weight-for-gestational age z-score (β = -0.19, 95% CI: -0.33, -0.04) were associated with lower mid-childhood HCC, while prenatal smoking was associated with higher mid-childhood HCC (β = 0.53, 95% CI: 0.04, 1.01). In early adolescence, child age (β = 0.34 per year, 95% CI: 0.21, 0.46) female sex (β = 0.33, 95% CI: 0.10, 0.57), and maternal pre-pregnancy body mass index (β = 0.15 per 5-kg/m2, 95% CI: 0.01, 0.29) were positively associated with HCC. Child anthropometric measures and biomarker concentrations were not associated with HCC.


Maternal pre-pregnancy BMI, maternal prenatal smoking, and low birth weight were associated with higher mid-childhood and adolescent HCC. However, few postnatal characteristics were associated with HCC.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Public Library of Science Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center