Published in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, a recent study looked at various growth patterns during infancy and how they related to the risk of asthma symptoms later in life. Unlike any study before it, The Generation R Study Group at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands did, in fact, find that an accelerated growth pattern in the first three months of life led to an increased risk of asthma symptoms during early childhood.
“We know that low birth weight is associated with an increased risk of asthma symptoms in children, but the effects of specific fetal and infant growth patterns on this risk had not been examined yet,” stated researcher Liesbeth Duijts, M.D., Ph.D. “In our study, weight gain acceleration in early infancy was associated with an increased risk of asthma symptoms in children of preschool age, independent of fetal growth patterns, suggesting that early infancy might be a critical period for the development of asthma.”
In the population-based prospective cohort study, 5,125 children were followed from their fetal age until the age of four. Asthma symptoms were confirmed or denied with a questionnaire at ages 1, 2, 3, and 4.
Researchers did not find any connection between asthma symptoms and fetal length and weight growth. In the first three months of life, after normal fetal growth, however, the researchers found that infants with an accelerated growth had an overall odd ratio of 1.44 for wheezing, 1.32 for shortness of breath, 1.16 for dry cough and 1.30 for persistent phlegm – all of which are asthmatic symptoms.
“Our results suggest that the relationship between infant weight gain and asthma symptoms is not due to the accelerated growth of fetal growth-restricted (i.e. low birth weight) infants only,” stated Dr. Duijts. “While the mechanisms underlying this relationship are unclear, accelerated weight growth in early life might adversely affect lung growth and might be associated with adverse changes in the immune system.”
Researchers did admit, however, that the study had some limitations, including a possible measurement error in fetal weight as well as the reliability of the self-reporting of asthmatic symptoms.
“Further research is needed to replicate our findings and explore the mechanisms that contribute to the effects of growth acceleration in infancy on respiratory health,” Dr. Duijts concluded. “The effects of infant growth patterns on asthma phenotypes in later life should also be examined.”
I do have some concerns of my own about this study. If a link does, in fact, exist between accelerated infant growth and asthma symptoms, I have some concerns about the future of infant health. While the cases are rare, there have been cases in which infants have died from diet restrictions used by parents during early infancy to avoid an “overweight” baby. If you have concerns about your infant’s weight, be sure to talk to your doctor about your infant’s nutrition needs.
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