The objective of this study was to identify specific components of fetal growth that may underlie the observed association between birth weight and later blood pressure. A record linkage was made between the Swedish Medical Birth Registry, the Military Conscription Register, and censuses. For 165,136 men born in Sweden between 1973 and 1976 and conscripted from 1990 to 1996, systolic blood pressure was measured at age 18 years. Systolic pressure was independently inversely associated with birth weight for gestational age and with gestational age itself but not with birth length for gestational age. The difference in systolic pressure between the top and the bottom quintiles of birth weight for gestational age was -1.61 mmHg (95% confidence interval: -1.82 to -1.40) after adjustment for birth length for gestational age, height, and weight. The change in systolic pressure was -0.25 mmHg (-0.29 to -0.22) for a 1-week increase in gestational age. How far the inverse association of systolic pressure with length of gestation represents an independent effect of maturation is unclear. These findings help to refine the fetal origins hypothesis and provide further criteria against which potential biological mechanisms that link circumstances in utero to later blood pressure can be assessed.
Comment In: Am J Epidemiol. 2000 Oct 1;152(7):605-811032154