Friday, July 17, 1998 Published at 14:08 GMT 15:08 UK
Small babies more prone to heart disease
Birthweight could be an inidication of future health
Babies with a low birthweight may have a higher than average risk of heart disease and stroke later in adult life.
Research suggests that narrowing of the arteries in adults is linked to impaired foetal growth.
Until now explanations for atherosclerosis - narrowing of the arteries - has focused on environmental influences such as smoking, diet and exercise.
Blood pressure tests
Dr Christopher Martyn and colleagues from Southampton General Hospital interviewed 322 people aged 66 to 71 who were born in Sheffield and for whom birth records were available.
Of these, 186 agreed to a blood pressure test to measure atherosclerosis in their limbs. Most also underwent an ultrasound test to measure the degree of narrowing in their carotid arteries, the blood vessels which supply blood to the head.
The researchers found that the prevalence and severity of carotid atherosclerosis was greatest among those who had a low birthweight.
Low birthweight was not significantly linked to atherosclerosis in the limbs.
Long term consequences
The scientists believed the link was due to changes in the foetal cardiovascular system caused by restricted growth.
These, it was thought, "may have long term consequences for the structure and metabolism of the vascular system".
Three groups of weight were looked at: up to 6.5 ounces; 6.5-8.5 ounces; 8.5 ounces and above. The study concluded that the lower the weight, the greater the risk.