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Intergenerational transmission of height in a historical population: from taller mothers to larger offspring at birth (and as adults)


Floris, Joël; Matthes, Katarina L; Le Vu, Mathilde; Staub, Kaspar (2023). Intergenerational transmission of height in a historical population: from taller mothers to larger offspring at birth (and as adults). PNAS Nexus, 2(6):pgad208.

Abstract

Background
Changes in growth and height reflect changes in nutritional status and health. The systematic surveillance of growth can suggest areas for interventions. Moreover, phenotypic variation has a strong intergenerational component. There is a lack of historical family data that can be used to track the transmission of height over subsequent generations. Maternal height is a proxy for conditions experienced by one generation that relates to the health/growth of future generations. Cross-sectional/cohort studies have shown that shorter maternal height is closely associated with lower birthweight of offspring.

Objective/Methods
We analyzed the maternal height and offspring weight at birth in the maternity hospital in Basel, Switzerland, from 1896–1939 (N=ca. 12,000) using GAMs.

Results
We observed that average height of the mothers increased by ca. 4 cm across 60 birth years, and that average birthweight of their children shows a similarly shaped and upward trend 28 years later. Our final model (adjusted for year, parity, sex of the child, gestational age, and maternal birthyear) revealed a significant and almost linear association between maternal height and birthweight. Maternal height was the second most important variable modeling birthweight, after gestational age. In addition, we found a significant association between maternal height and aggregated average height of males from the same birth years at time of conscription, 19 years later.

Conclusions
Our results have implications for public health: When (female/maternal) height increases due to improved nutritional status, size at birth—and subsequently also the height in adulthood of the next generation—increases as well. However, the directions of development in this regard may currently differ depending on the world region.

Abstract

Background
Changes in growth and height reflect changes in nutritional status and health. The systematic surveillance of growth can suggest areas for interventions. Moreover, phenotypic variation has a strong intergenerational component. There is a lack of historical family data that can be used to track the transmission of height over subsequent generations. Maternal height is a proxy for conditions experienced by one generation that relates to the health/growth of future generations. Cross-sectional/cohort studies have shown that shorter maternal height is closely associated with lower birthweight of offspring.

Objective/Methods
We analyzed the maternal height and offspring weight at birth in the maternity hospital in Basel, Switzerland, from 1896–1939 (N=ca. 12,000) using GAMs.

Results
We observed that average height of the mothers increased by ca. 4 cm across 60 birth years, and that average birthweight of their children shows a similarly shaped and upward trend 28 years later. Our final model (adjusted for year, parity, sex of the child, gestational age, and maternal birthyear) revealed a significant and almost linear association between maternal height and birthweight. Maternal height was the second most important variable modeling birthweight, after gestational age. In addition, we found a significant association between maternal height and aggregated average height of males from the same birth years at time of conscription, 19 years later.

Conclusions
Our results have implications for public health: When (female/maternal) height increases due to improved nutritional status, size at birth—and subsequently also the height in adulthood of the next generation—increases as well. However, the directions of development in this regard may currently differ depending on the world region.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Institute of Evolutionary Medicine
06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of History
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
900 History
Uncontrolled Keywords:Stature, Birthweight, Maternal effectsm 19th/20th centuries, Trends
Language:English
Date:19 June 2023
Deposited On:25 Jun 2023 11:28
Last Modified:29 Jun 2024 01:36
Publisher:Oxford University Press
ISSN:2752-6542
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1093/pnasnexus/pgad208
PubMed ID:37388921
  • Content: Accepted Version
  • Language: English
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)