Objective: Animal models suggest that fetal exposure to glucocorticoids can program adiposity, especially central adiposity, later in life. We examined associations of maternal corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) levels in the late 2nd trimester of pregnancy, a marker of fetal glucocorticoid exposure, with child adiposity at age 3 years.
Research Methods and Procedures: We analyzed data from 199 participants in Project Viva, a prospective cohort study of pregnant women and their children, At age 3 years, the main outcomes were age-sex-specific BMI z score and the sum of subscapular (SS) and triceps (TR) skinfold thicknesses to represent overall adiposity, and ratio of SS to TR (SS:TR) to represent central adiposity.
Results: Mean (standard deviation) maternal 2nd trimester log CRH was 4.94 (0.56) pg/mL. At age 3, mean (standard deviation) for BMI z score was 0.52 (1.02); for SS + TR, 16.51 (3.94) mm; and for SS:TR, 0.67 (0.17). Log CRH was mildly inversely correlated with birth weight (r = −0.08), chiefly because of its association with length of gestation (r = −0.21) rather than fetal growth (r = −0.004). After adjustment for sociodemographic factors, maternal smoking, BMI, and gestational weight gain, fetal growth, length of gestation, breastfeeding duration, and (for SS:TR only) child's 3-year BMI, each increment of 1 unit of log CRH was associated with a reduction in BMI z score [−0.43; 95% confidence interval (CI), −0.73, −0.14; p = 0.004] and possible reduction in SS + TR (−1.10; 95% CI, −2.33, 0.14; p = 0.08). In contrast, log CRH was associated with higher SS:TR (0.07; 95% CI, 0.02, 0.13; p = 0.007).
Discussion: Fetal exposure to glucocorticoids, although associated with an overall decrease in body size, may cause an increase in central adiposity.