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Do Early Growth Spurts Protect Against Bad Cholesterol?

Finding suggests adult heart disease may have roots in childhood

Please note: This article was published more than one year ago. The facts and conclusions presented may have since changed and may no longer be accurate. And "More information" links may no longer work. Questions about personal health should always be referred to a physician or other health care professional.

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, March 1, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Children who are tall as toddlers or grow fast during their teenage years are more likely to have lower cholesterol levels as adults, British researchers report.

On the other hand, people who gain excess weight after age 15 run a higher risk of higher cholesterol levels, according to the study.

"Children who grew more slowly in height in the first two years of life had higher total cholesterol levels in adulthood. And those who had a high body mass index in adulthood also had higher levels of total cholesterol," said lead author Paula Skidmore, a researcher at the School of Medicine, Health Policy and Practice at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich.

The results are published in the March issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

For the study, Skidmore's team collected data on 2,311 men and women who participated in the Medical Research Council long term study. All the participants were born in one week of March 1946. They had their height and weight measured at ages of 2, 4, 7, 15, 36 and 53. At 53, blood samples were taken to determine cholesterol levels.

The researchers found that the more height gained before age 2 and after age 15, the lower the cholesterol levels at age 53. Lower cholesterol levels were more strongly associated with leg length rather than trunk length.

Conversely, higher body fat levels at ages 36 and 53, and more rapid weight gain between 15 and 53, were associated with higher total cholesterol levels, including higher levels of the harmful low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the researchers found.

Skidmore said it's "vital that parents are aware of the importance of nutrition in pregnancy and childhood."

It's also vital that children be taught about -- and encouraged to eat -- healthful diets, Skidmore said. "There is a large amount of information publicly available on healthy eating, and further research is needed to investigate the factors that prevent people from eating healthily," she added.

One expert thinks this study finding may have a basis in human biology.

"This is a very interesting article, suggesting that a gain in height or body mass during one's youth may affect their cholesterol profile when they are in their 50s," said Dr. Byron K. Lee, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

"This is biologically plausible, since we know that hormones and their interaction can have a great effect on both growth and circulating cholesterol levels," Lee said. "This may mean that even at a very young age, we need to take preventative measures to avoid heart disease many years down the road."

More information

To learn more about cholesterol and how to manage it, visit the American Heart Association.

SOURCES: Paula Skidmore, Ph.D., School of Medicine, Health Policy and Practice, University of East Anglia, Norwich, United Kingdom; Byron K. Lee M.D., assistant professor of medicine, University of California, San Francisco; March 2007, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health

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