Epigenetic gestational age and trajectories of weight and height during childhood: a prospective cohort study
Background: Differences between an individual's estimated epigenetic gestational age (EGA) and their actual gestational age (GA) are defined as gestational age acceleration (GAA). GAA is associated with increased birthweight and birth length. Whether these associations persist through childhood is yet to be investigated. Methods: We examined the association between GAA and trajectories of height and weight from birth to 10 years (n=785) in a British birth cohort study, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). EGA of participants was estimated using DNA methylation data from cord blood using a recently-developed prediction model. GA of participants was gathered in ALSPAC from clinical records and was measured from last menstrual period (LMP) for most participants. GAA of participants, measured in weeks, was calculated as the residuals from a regression model of EGA on actual GA. Height and weight were obtained from several sources including birth records, research clinics, routine child health clinics, links to health visitor records and parent-reported measures from questionnaires. Analyses were performed using linear spline multilevel models and adjusted for maternal age, maternal pre-pregnancy BMI, maternal smoking during pregnancy and maternal education. Results: In adjusted analyses, offspring with a one-week greater GAA were born on average 0.14 kg heavier (95% Confidence Interval (CI) 0.09, 0.19) and 0.55 cm taller (95% CI 0.33, 0.78) at birth. These differences in weight persisted up to approximately age 9 months but thereafter began to attenuate and reduce in magnitude. From age 5 years onwards, the association between GAA and weight reversed such that GAA was associated with lower weight and this association strengthened with age (mean difference at age 10 years -0.60 kg (95% CI, -1.19, -0.01)). Differences in height persisted only up to age 9 months (mean difference at 9 months 0.15 cm, (95% CI -0.09, 0.39)). From age 9 months to age 10 years, offspring with a one-week greater GAA were of comparable height to those with no GAA (mean difference at age 10 years -0.07 cm, (95% CI -0.64, 0.50)). Conclusions: Gestational age acceleration is associated with increased birth weight and length and these differences persist to age 9 months. From 5 years onwards, the association of GAA and weight reverses such that by age 10 years greater GAA is associated with lower childhood weight. Further work is required to examine whether the weight effects of GAA strengthen further through adolescence and into early adulthood.
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