The researchers examined first five years of life of the babies and found that babies that gain weight more rapidly in the first five months after birth and from about ages 2 to 5 years have higher systolic blood pressure in young adulthood.
Immediate weight gain after birth was also linked higher adult diastolic blood pressure.
Systolic blood pressure is the first number in a blood pressure reading and represents the pressure in the arteries while the heart contracts. Diastolic blood pressure represents the pressure when the heart relaxes between beats.
"Changes in immediate (or the first five months) post-natal weight gain and childhood weight gain were associated with small changes in systolic blood pressure (around 1-1.5 millimeters of mercury [mmHg]) that were probably not due to chance," said Yoav Ben-Shlomo, lead author of the study and professor of clinical epidemiology in the Department of Social Medicine at the University of Bristol, U.K.
"At an individual level, these changes would not be very important but in public health terms they are relevant," Ben-Shlomo added.
The researchers evaluated 679 adults (about age 25) whose growth patterns were tracked as infants as part of the Barry Caerphilly Growth Study. Measurements had been recorded at 14 points between birth and age five.
They researchers found that weight gain occurring between 0 and 5 months and 1 year, 9 months to 5 years made the most difference.
"When trying to understand why some people get high blood pressure in later life, we need to consider a life course approach that considers early life as well as adult life risk factors such as dietary salt and obesity," Ben-Shlomo said.
"If children put on more post-natal weight today than they did in the past, then we could better predict that the burden of high blood pressure will increase in the future. Hypertension, in turn, is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke," Ben-Shlomo added.
The findings are reported in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association.