Length and body mass index at birth and target height influences on patterns of postnatal growth in children born small for gestational age

Z C Luo, K Albertsson-Wikland, J Karlberg
Pediatrics 1998, 102 (6): E72

OBJECTIVE: Previous growth studies on children born small for gestational age (SGA) indicate that birth length, weight, and target height are important predictors for postnatal catch-up growth in SGA. Their influences on different phases of catch-up growth are still not described. The aim of this study was to clarify the influences of target height, length, and nutritional status at birth on different phases of postnatal catch-up growth (infancy, childhood, puberty) in SGA and the long-term consequences.

METHODS: Data were obtained from a longitudinal population-based growth study on Swedish children (N = 2815). Primary outcome measurements include heights, the changes in height standard deviation scores (SDS) during various phases of growth and relative risk for adult shortness.

RESULTS: The difference in final height in children born SGA was attributable to their difference in target height and the magnitude of catch-up growth during the first 6 months of life, rather than the difference in length or body mass index (BMI) at birth. Length at birth showed negative influence on catch-up growth during infancy (0 to 2 years of age), but no significant influence thereafter. The BMI or weight for length SDS at birth showed no significant influence on catch-up growth during any growth phase. Target height showed positive influence on catch-up growth from the onset of childhood. Neither target height nor length and BMI at birth showed any significant influence on catch-up growth during puberty. The magnitude of catch-up growth during infancy, especially the first 6 months of life, is most critical in decreasing risk at adult shortness. We confirmed that the SGA group had a sevenfold greater risk for adult shortness than the non-SGA group (relative risk = 7.31; 95% confidence interval: 3.96-13.52). However, approximately 40% of children who were below -2 in height SDS at 2 years of age remained short at final height in both SGA and non-SGA groups. The mean height SDS of children born SGA increased by 1.65 from birth to final height, but the length deficit in centimeters at birth (-5.4 cm) persisted into adulthood (-5.9 cm).

CONCLUSIONS: BMI at birth is not related to postnatal catch-up growth in infants born SGA, but birth length and target height are important. The genetic influence on catch-up growth appears to start from the onset of childhood. Being born short or becoming short during the first 2 years of life is similar in terms of risk for adult short stature.

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