Changes in genetic and environmental effects on growth during infancy

RN Touwslager, M Gielen, AL Mulder, WJ Gerver, LJ Zimmermann, Tom Fowler, AJ Houben, CD Stehouwer, C Derom, R Vlietinck, RJ Loos, Maurice Zeegers

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    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.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1568-74
    Number of pages7
    JournalThe American journal of clinical nutrition
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2011


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