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Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2001 Oct;185(4):839-44.

Reduction of subcutaneous mass, but not lean mass, in normal fetuses in Denver, Colorado.

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Division of Perinatal Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, CO 80262, USA.



To test the hypothesis that reduced birth weight in normal fetuses born at moderately high altitude (Denver), compared with the birth weight in normal fetuses born at sea level (Milan), is caused by a reduction in both lean mass and subcutaneous fat mass.


Ninety-four normal singleton pregnancies (46 in Denver, 48 in Milan) had serial ultrasonographic axial images obtained to assess subcutaneous tissues of fetuses as a measure of body fat. The abdominal wall thickness and mid upper arm and mid thigh were examined. The equation was: Subcutaneous tissue equals total cross-sectional area minus bone and muscle area. Lean mass included the area of muscle and bone, head circumference, and femur length.


Gestational age at delivery was similar between groups. Birth weight was less at Denver's altitude (2991 +/- 79 g versus 3247 +/- 96 g; P =.04). Abdominal wall thickness, mid upper arm, and mid thigh subcutaneous tissues measurements were significantly reduced at Denver's altitude and increased further in significance with advancing gestational age. Lean mass measurements were similar between groups.


The reduced birth weight of the newborns in Denver was the result of a reduction in fetal subcutaneous fat tissue and not lean mass. Ultrasonography can be used to follow subcutaneous measurements longitudinally and to detect differences, and potentially disease processes, in study populations.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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