BACKGROUND: Accelerated growth in early childhood is an established risk factor for later obesity and cardiometabolic disease, but the relative importance of fat mass (FM) and fat-free mass (FFM) accretion is not well understood. We aimed to study how FM and FFM at birth and their accretion during infancy were associated with body composition and cardiometabolic risk markers at 5 years.
METHODS AND FINDINGS: Healthy children born at term were enrolled in the Infant Anthropometry and Body Composition (iABC) birth cohort between December 2008 and October 2012 at Jimma University Specialized Hospital in the city of Jimma, Ethiopia. FM and FFM were assessed using air displacement plethysmography a median of 6 times between birth and 6 months of age. In 507 children, we estimated individual FM and FFM at birth and their accretion over 0-3 and 3-6 months of age using linear-spline mixed-effects modelling. We analysed associations of FM and FFM at birth and their accretion in infancy with height, waist circumference, FM, FFM, and cardiometabolic risk markers at 5 years using multiple linear regression analysis. A total of 340 children were studied at the 5-year follow-up (mean age: 60.0 months; girls: 50.3%; mean wealth index: 45.5 out of 100; breastfeeding status at 4.5 to 6 months post-partum: 12.5% exclusive, 21.4% almost exclusive, 60.6% predominant, 5.5% partial/none). Higher FM accretion in infancy was associated with higher FM and waist circumference at 5 years. For instance, 100-g/month higher FM accretion in the periods 0-3 and 3-6 months was associated with 339 g (95% CI: 243-435 g, p < 0.001) and 367 g (95% CI: 250-484 g, p < 0.001) greater FM at 5 years, respectively. Higher FM at birth and FM accretion from 0 to 3 months were associated with higher FFM and cholesterol concentrations at 5 years. Associations for cholesterol were strongest for low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-cholesterol, and remained significant after adjusting for current FM. A 100-g higher FM at birth and 100-g/month higher FM accretion from 0 to 3 months were associated with 0.16 mmol/l (95% CI: 0.05-0.26 mmol/l, p = 0.005) and 0.06 mmol/l (95% CI: 0.01-0.12 mmol/l, p = 0.016) higher LDL-cholesterol at 5 years, respectively. Higher FFM at birth and FFM accretion in infancy were associated with higher FM, FFM, waist circumference, and height at 5 years. For instance, 100-g/month higher FFM accretion in the periods 0-3 and 3-6 months was associated with 1,002 g (95% CI: 815-1,189 g, p < 0.001) and 624 g (95% CI: 419-829 g, p < 0.001) greater FFM at 5 years, respectively. We found no associations of FM and FFM growth with any of the other studied cardiometabolic markers including glucose, HbA1c, insulin, C-peptide, HOMA-IR, triglycerides, and blood pressure. Non-attendance at the 5-year follow-up visit was the main limitation of this study, which may have introduced selection bias and limited the power of the regression analyses.
CONCLUSIONS: FM accretion in early life was positively associated with markers of adiposity and lipid metabolism, but not with blood pressure and cardiometabolic markers related to glucose homeostasis. FFM accretion was primarily related to linear growth and FFM at 5 years.