Mother's body, placental size can predict heart disease in men

Washington, June 2: A study on the foetal origins of chronic disease has found that combinations of a mother's body size and the shape and size of her baby's placenta can predict heart disease in men in later life.

Professor David Barker and colleagues studied 6975 men born in Helsinki (Finland) between 1934-1944 - a time when not only was the babies' size at birth recorded but also the size of the placental surface.

Other available information included details of the mothers' height and weight in late pregnancy, age, parity, and date of last menstrual period.

They found that there were three combinations of mother's body size and placental shape and size that predicted coronary heart disease in boys when they reached late adulthood (from about aged 40 onwards).

An oval-shaped placental surface in short mothers who had not been pregnant before - the narrower the placental surface in relation to its length, the more the risk of heart disease rose, increasing by 14 percent for each centimetre increase in the difference between the length and breadth of the surface.

A small placental surface in tall, heavy women (those with a body mass index (BMI) over 26 kg/m2, the middle value for the women in the study); in these men their risk of heart disease rose by a quarter (25 percent) per 40cm2 decrease in the surface area.

A large placental weight in relation to birth weight in babies born to tall mothers with a BMI below 26 kg/m2; these men had a seven percent increased risk for every one percent larger ratio of placental weight to birth weight.

The associations were independent of the social class of the men or the family into which they were born.

"Due to the fact that the shape and size as well as the weight of the placenta were routinely measured at the birth of this group of men, we have been able to show for the first time that a combination of the mother's body size and the shape and size of the placental surface predicts later heart disease," Barker, who is Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Southampton (UK) and Professor in Cardiovascular Medicine at Oregon Health and Science University (USA), said.

Barker said that this research is further evidence of the long-term effect of foetal development.

"Chronic disease is the product of a mother's lifetime nutrition and the early growth of her child. It is not simply a consequence of poor lifestyles in later life. Rather it is a result of variations in the normal processes of human development," he stated.

The research is published online in the European Heart Journal [1].

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