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To examine if smaller size at birth, an indicator of growth restriction in utero, is associated with lower cognition in late life, and whether this may be mediated by impaired early life brain development and/or adverse cardiometabolic programming.
Longitudinal follow-up of a birth cohort.
CSI Holdsworth Memorial Hospital (HMH), Mysore South India.
721 men and women (55–80 years) whose size at birth was recorded at HMH. Approximately 20 years earlier, a subset (n = 522) of them had assessments for cardiometabolic disorders in mid-life.
Standardized measurement of cognitive function, depression, sociodemographic, and lifestyle factors; blood tests and assessments for cardiometabolic disorders
Participants who were heavier at birth had higher composite cognitive scores (0.12 SD per SD birth weight [95% CI 0.05, 0.19] p = 0.001) in late life. Other lifecourse factors independently positively related to cognition were maternal educational level and participants’ own educational level, adult leg length, body mass index, and socioeconomic position, and negatively were diabetes in mid-life and current depression and stroke. The association of birth weight with cognition was independent cardiometabolic risk factors and was attenuated after adjustment for all lifecourse factors (0.08 SD per SD birth weight [95% CI −0.01, 0.18] p = 0.07).
The findings are consistent with positive effects of early life environmental factors (better fetal growth, education, and childhood socioeconomic status) on brain development resulting in greater long-term cognitive function. The results do not support a pathway linking poorer fetal development with reduced late life cognitive function through cardiometabolic programming.
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