Relation of Fetal Growth to Adult Muscle Mass and Glucose Tolerance


  • Dr. D.I.W. Phillips

    Corresponding author
    1. Metabolic Programming Group, MRC Environmental Epidemiology Unit (University of Southampton), Southampton General Hospital, Southampton, UK.
      MRC Environmental Epidemiology Unit, Southampton General Hospital, Tremona Road, Southampton SO16 6YD, UK.
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MRC Environmental Epidemiology Unit, Southampton General Hospital, Tremona Road, Southampton SO16 6YD, UK.


Recent studies show reduced fetal growth is associated with insulin resistance and a raised prevalence of glucose intolerance in adult life. Because early growth retardation in animal models leads to permanent changes in body composition and a reduction in the mass of muscle, a major insulin sensitive tissue, reduced adult muscle mass could explain the link between impaired fetal growth and glucose intolerance. To investigate this hypothesis, muscle mass has been determined in a group of men and women aged around 50 who were born in Preston, Lancashire and compared with their birthweight or body size at birth and their current insulin resistance and glucose tolerance. Subjects who had lower birthweights were shorter and lighter but their weight adjusted for height (BMI) was similar to that of other subjects. Much of the difference in weight was accounted for by a reduction in muscle mass. Muscle mass as estimated by the urinary creatinine excretion rose from 18.8 % of body weight in women who had birthweights of 2.5 kg or less to 24.7% of bodyweight in those with birthweights of 3.4 kg or more. Trends in men were similar. Regression analysis showed that adult muscle mass was predicted by low birthweight (p = 0.004), low placental weight (p = 0.02), and small head circumference (p = 0.02) but not, however, by thinness at birth, the birth measurement most predictive of insulin resistance. In addition there were no significant relationships between muscle mass and insulin resistance or glucose tolerance in either men or women. These results may be explained by the existence of two populations of babies both characterized by low birthweight. Babies who are symmetrically small at birth have reduced muscle mass in adult life. They do not, however, have increased insulin resistance or a tendency to develop glucose intolerance. Thin babies have a normal adult muscle mass; their tendency to develop insulin resistance or glucose intolerance is not explained by alterations in muscle mass.