Background Neonatal physical characteristics, including head circumference and birth weight, have been hypothesized to be markers of in utero thymic development. Greater head circumference and lower birth weight have been linked in previous studies to subsequent development of asthma, and greater birth weight has been associated with subsequent development of eczema.
Objective To investigate potential associations between neonatal head circumference and weight and hayfever, asthma and eczema in a cohort of adolescents from Sheffield, England.
Methods Responses to a questionnaire inquiring about physician-diagnosed hayfever, asthma and eczema among adolescents in Sheffield, England, were linked to previously recorded measurements of weight at birth and at 1 month and head circumference at 1 month. Logistic regression methods were used to relate diagnoses to neonatal measurements and potential confounders.
Results The cohort consisted of 10 809 adolescents, of whom 16.5% reported hayfever, 18.0% asthma, and 16.2% eczema. After adjusting for sex, age at the time of the questionnaire, maternal age and gestational age at birth, number of older and younger siblings, time since birth of next older sibling, neonatal sickness, type of neonatal feeding, and maternal and paternal educational backgrounds, hayfever was the only disease associated with neonatal measurements. Comparing the highest with the lowest fifths of distributions, lifetime prevalence of hayfever was positively associated with neonatal head circumference (adjusted odds ratio 1.23, 95% CI 1.03 to 1.47) and with birth weight (1.17, 0.99 to 1.39). Hayfever was inversely related to the ratio of head circumference to birth weight (0.89, 0.75 to 1.05) and to gestational age. The associations with head circumference and birth weight were not substantially altered by further adjustment for gestational age.
Conclusion Greater neonatal head circumference may be associated with an increased risk of hayfever, but the inverse relationship between hayfever prevalence and the ratio of head circumference to birth weight challenges the prior hypothesis that greater head circumference relative to body mass reflects abnormal thymic development in utero, increasing the likelihood of allergic sensitization.