Although a large number of previous studies suggest an association between birth weight and later blood pressure, others do not. Controversy surrounds the relative importance of these associations, in particular in relation to more modifiable factors in later life and whether the association would be seen in a, relatively disadvantaged, Indigenous population. The aim of this study, within the Aboriginal Birth Cohort study, was to examine the relative contributions and mediating pathways of birth weight, and later growth and lifestyle factors to variation in blood pressure at age 16–20 years.
Detailed information was collected prospectively, including maternal smoking, birth weight, childhood BMI. At age 16–20 years, 451 underwent clinical examination, including the measurement of diastolic and systolic blood pressures. These data were analyzed using linear regression and path analyses, incorporating adjustment for potential confounders.
Increased BMI at age 18 years was significantly associated with both increasing systolic and diastolic blood pressures. BMI had the highest relative importance and mediated the effects from earlier in life, including birth weight. Being female and living in remote residence were also independently associated with a reduction in systolic blood pressure.
Blood pressure in this cohort is primarily influenced by contemporaneous BMI, which in this population at this age is generally lower than that seen in non-Indigenous populations in developed countries. However, other factors, including birth weight, do appear to play a role that is mediated through later BMI.