Overweight female babies are at an increased risk of developing diabetes and related metabolic risks when they grow up compared with their male counterparts.
The incidence of early onset type-2 diabetes has been rising in stride with the epidemic of childhood obesity.
Previous studies have shown that cardiovascular risk factors in childhood and adults are associated with birth weight.
This study investigated the associations between birth weight and body fat distribution in early childhood with future metabolic risk factors such as obesity, insulin resistance and high blood pressure.
"What happens to a baby in the womb affects future heart disease and diabetes risk when the child grows up," Rae-Chi Huang, the study's lead author from The University of Western Australia in Perth, said.
"We found that female babies are particularly prone to this increased risk and females who are at high risk of obesity and diabetes-related conditions at age 17 are showing increased obesity as early as 12 months of age," Huand said.
In this study, the researchers examined 1,053 17-year-olds from an Australian birth cohort. Follow-up of study participants took place at eight intervals between one and 17 years of age.
In addition to birth weight and BMI, researchers took measurements of blood pressure and levels of insulin, blood glucose, triglycerides and cholesterol.
The 17-year-old girls with the greater waist circumference, triglycerides, insulin, and lower HDL-cholesterol (good cholesterol) were also heavier from birth with consistently higher BMI thereafter. In contrast, birth weight had no statistical impact on metabolic risk factors in males.
"These findings are significant because in our modern western society, we are seeing increased maternal obesity and gestational diabetes, which means there will also be a rise in female newborns that are born large for their age.
"Our results can be applied to public health messages targeting both maternal health and measures in early infancy regarding the prevention of childhood obesity and its consequences," Huang added.
The study has been published in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (JCEM).