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Are ethnic differences in body composition present at birth?

Presented at the Neonatal Society 2005 Summer Meeting (programme).

McEwan P1, Uthaya S1, Thomas L2, Bell J2, Modi N1

1 Faculty of Medicine, Chelsea & Westminster Campus, Imperial College London, London, UK
2 Robert Steiner MR Unit, MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, London, UK

Introduction & Aim: Differences in the distribution of adipose tissue are known to exist between different ethnic groups (1). These contribute to altered susceptibility to several diseases of adult life. We aimed to determine if these differences exist in newborn babies. We utilised data from a larger, ongoing study of body composition in infancy.

Methods: This is an observational study. Subjects were full term, appropriate for gestational age, and to date include 20 white European (E) and four black Afro-Caribbean (AC) infants. The study had approval from the local research ethics committee, and parental consent was obtained. Ethnic group was self reported by parents and confirmed by the investigator. Subjects were weighed and measured. Whole body adipose tissue imaging was performed using procedures described at previous meetings of the Neonatal Society (2,3). Babies were scanned in natural sleep within the first week after birth. Images were analysed on commercially available software. Total adipose tissue mass is presented as a percentage of body weight; intra-abdominal and subcutaneous adipose tissue is presented as a percentage of total adipose tissue. Data are presented at mean (sd). Comparisons were made using Students t-test (equal variances not assumed).

Results: The two study groups were similar in respect of gestational age (E: 39.9 (1.4); AC: 39.7(1.6) weeks), scan weight (E: 3.31 (0.21); AC 3.08 (0.42) kg), head circumference (E: 35.6 (0.9); AC: 34.2 (1.9) cm), and length (E: 51.9 (1.3); AC: 52.3 (1.0) cm). There were significant differences between the two groups in total and intra-abdominal adiposity but not subcutaneous adiposity (table).


Discussion: These data are in keeping with observations in children that show Afro-Caribbeans to have reduced intra-abdominal adiposity (4). Differences present at birth suggest that these are not determined by later life-style or diet. We intend to continue this work to see if these preliminary observations are confirmed.

1 Aloia et al Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine American 1996; 64:833-9
2 Uthaya et al Pediatric Research 2005; 57:211-215
3 Uthaya et al Hormone Research 2004; 62:1143-148
4 Yanovski et al American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1996; 64:833-9

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