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Epigenetic gestational age and trajectories of weight and height during childhood: a prospective cohort study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article number194 (2019)
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Epigenetics
DateAccepted/In press - 9 Oct 2019
DatePublished (current) - 16 Dec 2019


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. GAA of participants, measured in weeks, was calculated as the residuals from a regression model of EGA on actual GA. 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. 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 with 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 age 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 through adolescence and into early adulthood.

    Structured keywords

  • Physical and Mental Health

    Research areas

  • DNA methylation, Epigenetics, Gestational, Age acceleration, ALSPAC, ARIES

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