Low birth weight was linked not only to poor health outcomes in the beginning but also to chronic health conditions later in life, researchers have warned.
"Low birth babies are either associated with congenital heart disease or on a long term basis, has increased risk of cardiovascular morbidities such as myocardial infarction," said Prashant Patil, Consultant Paediatric Cardiologist, Kamineni Hospital in Hyderabad.
According to the study published in the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, West Virginia University researcher Amna Umer explored how low birth weight correlates to cardiovascular risk factors in childhood.
The research team assessed data of 20,000 fifth-graders born in West Virginia.
They discovered that if children had a low birth weight, they were more likely to exhibit cardiovascular risk factors in fifth grade.
"Previously it was thought that risk factors for cardiovascular diseases were only observed in adults because cardiovascular disease is mostly seen in adults, but in the past few years, we've seen that these risk factors are observed in children as well," Umer said.
The children in the study comprised were all born full-term, between 1994-2010, across West Virginia's 55 counties.
The researchers considered each child's birth weight and his or her body mass index (BMI) in fifth grade, among other variables.
They also evaluated each fifth-grader's level of triglycerides, the fat that circulates in the blood, and various cholesterol types.
"Low birth weight was associated with higher levels of 'bad' cholesterol and lower levels of 'good' cholesterol," Umer said.
"In addition, children with a low birth weight tended to have higher triglyceride level. These traits are risk factors for heart attack, stroke, peripheral artery disease, atherosclerosis and other disorders," she added.
Even after the researchers took into account the children's BMIs, socio-demographics, family medical histories and other factors, the relationship between these risk factors and low birth weight remained significant.
According to L. Srinivas, consultant paediatric cardiologist, Jupiter Hospital, Mumbai, low birth weight was mostly linked with hypertension, atherosclerotic heart disease and Metabolic syndrome X.
"However, prematurity with low birth weight has a strong association with persistent ductus arterioles which is a major cause of poor outcome in small babies. Low birth weight could also indicate the presence of various genetic disorders of which heart disease could be co-existent," he told IANS.