Long-term effects of birth weight and breastfeeding duration on inflammation in early adulthood

Thomas W. McDade, Molly W. Metzger, Laura Chyu, Greg J. Duncan, Craig Garfield, Emma K. Adam

Abstract

Chronic inflammation is a potentially important physiological mechanism linking early life environments and health in adulthood. Elevated concentrations of C-reactive protein (CRP)—a key biomarker of inflammation—predict increased cardiovascular and metabolic disease risk in adulthood, but the developmental factors that shape the regulation of inflammation are not known. We investigated birth weight and breastfeeding duration in infancy as predictors of CRP in young adulthood in a large representative cohort study (n = 6951). Birth weight was significantly associated with CRP in young adulthood, with a negative association for birth weights 2.8 kg and higher. Compared with individuals not breastfed, CRP concentrations were 20.1%, 26.7%, 29.6% and 29.8% lower among individuals breastfed for less than three months, three to six months, 6–12 months and greater than 12 months, respectively. In sibling comparison models, higher birth weight was associated with lower CRP for birth weights above 2.5 kg, and breastfeeding greater than or equal to three months was significantly associated with lower CRP. Efforts to promote breastfeeding and improve birth outcomes may have clinically relevant effects on reducing chronic inflammation and lowering risk for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases in adulthood.

  • Received December 1, 2013.
  • Accepted March 25, 2014.
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