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Changes in genetic and environmental effects on growth during infancy

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Abstract

BACKGROUND: Accelerated infant growth is a possible explanation for the relation between birth weight and adult diseases. OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to estimate the heritability of infant growth and to examine whether the genetic contribution changes with increasing or decreasing birth weight and gestational age. DESIGN: Growth (change in weight z score) was analyzed in 522 infants from the East Flanders Prospective Twin Survey for age windows of 0-1, 1-6, 6-12, and 12-24 mo. Structural equation modeling was performed to estimate the relative importance of additive genetic, shared environmental, and unique environmental sources of variance. RESULTS: We showed no genetic contribution to growth in the 0-1-mo growth period. However, at later ages, the heritability of growth was high at 94% (95% CI: 90%, 96%) from 1 to 6 mo, 85% (95% CI: 80%, 89%) from 6 to 12 mo, and 86% (95% CI: 77%, 91%) in the 12-24-mo growth period. Nevertheless, in the last age window, a model without genetic factors was also statistically plausible. From 0 to 1 mo, the genetic contribution to growth was low in the average birth weight range but higher at both extremes of birth weight. The genetic contribution from 0 to 1 mo increased with increasing gestational age from 36 wk of gestation onward. CONCLUSIONS: This study shows that genetic factors are not important in early infant growth (0-1 mo), whereas heritability is high after 1 mo. Because many (nutritional) interventions are aimed at influencing early postnatal growth, to target long-term health, these interventions may be most successful if implemented in the first month of postnatal growth.

    Research areas

  • IMPAIRED GLUCOSE-TOLERANCE, FOR-GESTATIONAL-AGE, POSTNATAL-GROWTH, BIRTH-WEIGHT, PROSPECTIVE RISK, EARLY-CHILDHOOD, METABOLIC RISK, BLOOD-PRESSURE, RAPID GROWTH, CATCH-UP
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Details

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1568-1574
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Volume94
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011