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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 March 2007, 00:02 GMT
Growth spurts 'beat cholesterol'
Parent with children
Fast growth as a toddler is a benefit, the study suggests
Adults who grew quickly as children are less likely to have high cholesterol later in life, claim scientists.

A study funded by the Medical Research Council looked at the heights and weights of 3,000 people over 50 years.

It was found "bad" cholesterol levels at 53 were lower if someone had been a tall toddler or rapid-growing teenager.

But the study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found piling on weight after the age of 15 boosted cholesterol levels.

High cholesterol - fat found in the bloodstream - has been linked to a variety of serious illnesses in middle-aged and older people, including heart disease and stroke.

Doctors are trying to find out why some people appear to be prone to high cholesterol, while others with a similar lifestyle are free from the problem.

It's vital that children are encouraged, wherever possible, to eat healthily
Dr Paula Skidmore
University of East Anglia

The MRC study, carried out by scientists at the University of East Anglia, looked across more than half a lifetime to find out.

Its 3,000 participants were all born in one week in March 1946, and then measured at the ages of 2, 4, 7, 15, 36 and 53, with a cholesterol reading taken at the last check.

The results showed that the faster height was gained before the age of two, and after the age of 15, the lower was the cholesterol at 53.

Weight gain

It was leg growth in childhood that appeared to have the strongest link to lower cholesterol.

The researchers suggest environmental exposures such as nutrition, infection and stress could affect both leg growth and cardiovascular risk.

The benefits of post-15 growth may be related to previous findings that early puberty has been linked to a poor diet, a lack of exercise and a higher alcohol intake, they add.

Higher body fat levels at 36 and 53, and rapid weight gain between 15 and 53, were also connected to higher total cholesterol levels, including higher levels of the potentially harmful 'low density lipoprotein' cholesterol - often dubbed 'bad' cholesterol.

Scientists already know that birthweight is important in future health, but the growth spurts they measured were not linked to this - or to the social or economic status of the person concerned.

Dr Paula Skidmore, who led the study, said that it was further evidence of the importance of nutrition both before and after birth.

She said: "This highlights the need for optimal nutrition in pregnancy, and in the early years of childhood.

"It's vital that children are encouraged, wherever possible, to eat healthily, and that further research is carried out to work out why people continue to eat unhealthily, in spite of the amount of information about good diet which is publicly available."

Dr Julian Hamilton-Shield, a senior lecturer in child health at Bristol University, said the study reinforced the message that early nutrition was one of the factors affecting health later in life.

"The research confirms previous research which made the connection between childhood growth and cardiovascular risk later in life."


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