According to a study children born with low weight may be at an increased risk of inflammatory processes in adulthood, which are linked with chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
While various studies have suggested that babies with lower weight at birth are at a higher risk for developing chronic diseases, there has been little understanding to explain why.
The current study suggests an association between lower weight at birth and inflammation in adulthood may provide that explanation.
The researchers describe inflammation as a normal physiologic response of the body that provides protective response to infection or tissue injury.
If the source of infection or injury is not repressed, they say, low-grade inflammation can persist and may promote the development of heart disease or diabetes.
During the study, the researchers followed 5,619 children born in 1966, and followed them up until they reached adulthood.
As compared to children with 'normal' weight in the first year of life, the team found that babies born relatively smaller and gained the least weight during infancy had a higher number of white blood cells, an indicator of inflammation, in adulthood.
"Our findings suggest that the link between poorer growth early in life and these adult chronic diseases may involve inflammation as a common underlying factor," said Dr. Dexter Canoy, of the University of Manchester in the UK and lead researcher of the study.
"Ensuring appropriate growth during this narrow 'window' in early development may confer lifelong benefits to health," Canoy added.
The study has been published in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (JCEM).