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Researchers at the University of Copenhagen found a link between birth weight and childhood obesity’s health risks, emphasizing the necessity for customized prevention and treatment approaches. Published in eBioMedicine, their study highlights the vulnerability of children with low birth weight to obesity-related cardiometabolic diseases, impacting millions worldwide annually.

Postdoctoral research fellow and study leader Sara Stinson’s notes that children born with low birth weight face increased health risks from obesity in later life, including cardiometabolic diseases. She adds that the study suggests these risks are influenced by both actual birth weight and genetic predisposition, indicating a heightened vulnerability to conditions like excess visceral fat.

Underdeveloped subcutaneous fat heightens the risk of disease

Ph.D. Student at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, Pauline Kromann Reim noted that obese children born underweight experience heightened health risks due to compromised insulin sensitivity, crucial for blood sugar regulation. She explained that while low birth weight doesn’t affect insulin sensitivity in normal-weight children, those with obesity show normal sensitivity if born heavy but reduced sensitivity if born light.

Researchers posit that inadequate subcutaneous fat in underweight children leads to visceral fat accumulation around organs, heightening risks of type 2 diabetes. Low birth weight children also exhibit elevated liver fat levels, exacerbating insulin sensitivity issues. This explains why low birthweight individuals during childhood are increased risk of developing diabetes.

Targeted treatment strategies necessary for low birth weight

Given these findings, Jens Christian Holm, Clinical Associate Professor at The Children’s Obesity Clinic, Copenhagen University Hospital Holbæk, advocates for prevention and treatment strategies specifically designed for children with obesity who were born underweight. Holm explained that such targeted strategies could potentially reduce their risk of developing obesity-related cardiometabolic complications.

Professor Torben Hansen from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research adds that early intervention and precision in treatment are crucial in combating cardiometabolic diseases.

The study emphasizes the importance of personalized medical approaches to address the unique risks faced by children with low birth weight and obesity, aiming to reduce their long-term health complications.