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26-10-2010 | Cardiology | Article

Fetal and infant malnutrition linked with hypertension and IGT in adulthood


Free abstract

MedWire News: Findings from a study conducted in Nigeria show that exposure to undernutrition in the womb and in infancy increases the risk for later hypertension and impaired glucose tolerance (IGT).

Cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and hypertension are rapidly increasing in prevalence in Nigerians aged 40 years or above. Researchers believe this may be due, at least in part, to exposure to the famine in Biafra during the 1967-1970 civil war.

To investigate, a study was carried out in Enugu, Nigeria in 2009 during which time 1339 adults born before (1965-1967), during (1968-Jan 1970), or after (1971-1973) the famine were recruited.

The participants had blood pressure (BP), plasma glucose, and anthropometric measurements taken, which included testing for presence of hypertension (BP over 140/90 mmHg), IGT (plasma glucose 7.8-11.0 mmol/l), diabetes (plasma glucose of 11.0 mmol/l or above), and an overweight body mass index (BMI; above 25 kg/m2). These measures were then compared among the three groups.

Fetal or infant exposure to the famine was associated with increased BP, at 7/5 mmHg higher on average, compared with non-exposure. Mean plasma glucose was also 0.3 mmol/l higher and waist circumference 3 cm greater in participants exposed to the famine compared with those who were not.

The team found that those exposed to the famine were a significant 2.87-, 1.65-, and 1.41-fold more likely to develop systolic hypertension, IGT, or an overweight BMI, respectively, than those who were not.

Mikael Norman (Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden) and co-authors concede that their results were limited by a lack of birthweight data and an inability to separate the effects of fetal and infant famine.

However, they conclude in the journal PLoS ONE that "prevention of fetal and infant undernutrition should be given high priority in national health, education, and economic agendas to limit the increase of non-communicable diseases in many African countries."

They add: "Given that the highest risk for hypertension was found in those undernourished in early life and then growing overweight, it is appropriate to consider that preventing excess growth in later childhood may be as important for reducing adult ill-health as supporting fetal-infant growth."

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Current Medicine Group, a trading division of Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2010

By Helen Albert

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