Birth Weight Influenced By Genes Linked To Several Disease Risks, Research Shows

Baby
A mother watches her baby at her grandparents' home in Barboursville, West Virginia, Oct. 18, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Genes associated with the risk of developing diseases, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems, also play a role in the birth weight of babies, a new study has found. Researchers said the findings add to the evidence that genetics — apart from environmental factors — contribute to a baby’s weight and risk of developing health issues later in life.

The study — published in Nature journal on Wednesday — was conducted by researchers from 117 institutions across 17 countries. They examined data of nearly 154,000 people from 37 studies. This included data of those of European, African-American, Chinese and Moroccan descents.

Researchers identified 60 regions of the genome that influenced birth weight. After analyzing data from previous studies related to diabetes and heart disease, researchers found that many of the same regions of the genome were implicated.

“What we have been able to show is that genetics are playing an important role here,” Mark McCarthy, co-author of the research from the University of Oxford, said in a statement. “What is going on here is a very intricate mix of genetic and environmental factors playing through both the mother and the offspring which are connecting events in early life to events 50, 60 or 70 years later in the same individual.”

The findings showed that at least one-sixth of the variation in birth weight is associated with genetic differences between babies. This, the researchers said, is seven to eight times more variation from environmental factors linked to birth weight, such as the mother smoking during pregnancy or her body mass index prior to pregnancy.

“These findings provide vital clues to the some of the processes that act over decades of life to influence an individual’s chances of developing diabetes and heart disease. These should highlight new approaches to treatment and prevention. Understanding the contributions of all of these processes will also tell us how much we should expect the many, wonderful improvements in antenatal care to reduce the burden of future diabetes and heart disease,” McCarthy said.

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