British doctors said Friday they had found more evidence that heart disease can start in childhood and even in the womb.
Three studies published in the Lancet medical journal showed a connection between low birth weight and low socio-economic status and heart disease or stroke.David Barker and colleagues at the Medical Research Council's epidemiology unit at Southampton University said they found more evidence to back up their theories that women who do not eat properly before and during pregnancy have babies who grow up with a tendency to heart disease and stroke.
Barker's group, which has been researching the possibility for years, looked at the medical records of 13,000 men born in England between 1907 and 1930. They found death rates from both heart disease and stroke were related to small size at birth.
But there was another link. Women with deformed pelvises had babies with a higher stroke risk. "Stroke may originate in poor nutrition during the mother's childhood, which deforms the bony pelvis and subsequently impairs her ability to sustain the growth of the placenta and fetus in late pregnancy," they wrote.
"Coronary heart disease, on the other hand, seems to originate in adaptations made by the fetus to inadequate delivery of nutrients," they added.
Barker's group decided to test the theory in a non-European population. They found detailed hospital records of 517 born in Mysore in the south of India between 1934 and 1954.
Here, too, smaller babies were nearly four times more likely to have heart disease as adults. Eleven percent of those who weighed 5.5 pounds or less at birth developed heart disease, compared to 3 percent of those born weighing 7 pounds or more.
"These findings add considerable weight to previous associations we have found between low birth weight and cardiovascular disease in later life," Barker said.
They added: "The findings on stroke tell us that for mothers, good nutrition is vital long before pregnancy."