Children who have large body sizes, are at more risk of coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes, particularly when the size persists into adulthood.
Studies published by The BMJ suggest that a larger early life body size may help protect women against breast cancer in later life.
Obesity in children is widely recognised a global public health crisis, yet levels continue ot rise.
Researchers at the University of Bristol used a technique called Mendelian randomisation to examine the genetic influence of body size in early life on risk of four diseases in later life – coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, breast and prostate cancer.
The researchers found that early life body size is associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes. However, when early life body size was analysed together with adult body size, the effects were considerably reduced, suggesting that the increased risk is most likely in those with a large body size in childhood that persists into later life.
Additionally, they found strong evidence that larger early life body size has a protective effect on risk of breast cancer. However, they say timing of puberty might play an important role here and this requires further investigation before firm conclusions can be made.
Although no strong evidence was found of a causal effect of either early or later life measures on prostate cancer.
This study suggests that the effect of self-reported adiposity at age 10 on coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes “can be obviated by achieving and maintaining a normal body mass index (BMI) in adulthood,” writes Professor Mary Schooling in a linked editorial.
To read the full study, click here.