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High-Altitude Ancestry Found Helpful for Fetal Growth

Study of babies born at altitude reports that native Andeans have fewer small for gestational age births than newcomers

TUESDAY, Sept. 25 (HealthDay News) -- Multi-generational high-altitude populations appear to have more protection against hypoxia-associated reductions in fetal growth than populations who are relatively new to a high-altitude region, according to the results of a study published in the September issue of the Archives of Disease in Childhood -- Fetal and Neonatal Edition.

Lorna G. Moore, Ph.D., of the University of Colorado Altitude Research Center, University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, and colleagues analyzed medical records on 3,551 births among Andean, European, and Mestizo (mixed Andean-European) women living at low, intermediate or high altitudes in Bolivia.

Although altitude was associated with decreased birth weight and increased small for gestational age births in all three population groups, the researchers found that Andean infants born at high altitude tended to weigh more and were less likely to be small for gestational age (13 percent, versus 16 percent for Mestizos and 33 percent for Europeans). After adjusting for other factors, the researchers found a nearly fivefold risk of small for gestational age births among Europeans compared to Andeans.

"Although comprising a small portion of the world's population, high-altitude residents are uniquely positioned to define the genetic, physiological or other characteristics influencing fetal growth, and thus to improve our ability to diagnose more accurately and ultimately prevent these conditions," the authors conclude.

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