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Study over 50 years shows babies with healthy birth weight grow up to be stronger adults

Published: 6 January 2003

New research by academics at the University of Southampton suggests muscle strength in middle-aged adults is directly related to their growth as a baby.

The Medical Research Council Environmental Epidemiology Unit linked with colleagues at University College London for the study on 1,371 men and 1,404 women who have been taking part in the National Survey of Health and Development since their birth in 1946.

These people have been followed up over the decades with height and weight measurements taken throughout childhood and adult life.

When muscle strength was measured, researchers found those who weighed least at birth had the weakest grip strength at the age of 53, regardless of their adult size.

Muscle weakness in later life can have serious consequences including increased risk of falls, fractures and disabilities.

MRC Clinical Scientist and Senior Lecturer in Geriatric Medicine, Dr Avan Aihie Sayer, said: "Early influences on muscle development appear to have life-long effects. Low birth weight babies may have fewer muscle fibres established at birth. The effects of this are not entirely reversed in later life."

The results have been published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Notes for editors

The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University, which celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 2002, has 20,000 students and over 4,500 staff and plays an important role in the City of Southampton. Its annual turnover is in the region of £235 million.

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