Low birth weight may raise the risk of developing chronic diseases later in life because it is linked with inflammation in early years, new research suggests.
Researchers from the UK and Finland followed up 5,619 children born in 1966 into adulthood.
Birth weight and growth in the first year were recorded and, at follow-up in adulthood, measures were taken of white cell count, an indicator of inflammation.
The researchers found that babies born smaller than average and who gained least weight during infancy had a higher white cell count.
Dr Dexter Canoy of Imperial College London said: 'Our findings suggest that the link between poorer growth early in life and these adult chronic diseases may involve inflammation as a common underlying factor.'
He added that there was no indication that those with lower birth weight might be more susceptible to the effects of a more adverse metabolic risk profile.
Dr Sarah Jarvis, RCGP spokeswoman on women's health, told GP: 'It is known there is a strong link between low birth weight and heart disease and diabetes. The question has been: "Why is that the case?"'
She said previous research had looked at the role of blood pressure and lipids as well as poor maternal diet and socioeconomic class.
A link between low birth weight and both inflammation and chronic disease would make sense, she added.
The research will appear in the June issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
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