Age at puberty and adult blood pressure and body size in a British birth cohort study

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Abstract

Objective

To investigate the association between age at puberty and blood pressure at age 53 years.

Design

A prospective birth cohort study with regular contacts through childhood and adulthood until the age of 53 years.

Participants

A total of 1193 men and 1204 women, from a sample of 5362 born in Britain in March 1946.

Main outcome measure

Blood pressure at age 53 years.

Results

Regression models indicated that men who had reached puberty latest had a lower mean systolic blood pressure (SBP; P = 0.03) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP; P = 0.01) at 53 years than others. The mean SBP (95% confidence interval) was 6.4 mmHg (1.8, 10.9) greater in the earliest puberty group compared with the latest; for DBP the difference was 4.6 mmHg (1.9, 7.4). The associations were not accounted for by current body size, even though later puberty was associated with a decreasing body mass index (BMI) at 53 years. Neither were they accounted for by prepubertal body size, birth weight, or childhood and adult social class. Although women who reached puberty early had a higher BMI and shorter stature at 53 years compared with other women, they did not have higher blood pressure.

Conclusions

Better health behaviours in men reaching puberty late may explain the association between age at puberty and blood pressure. Alternatively, age at puberty may be a marker of the whole growth trajectory, distinguishing characteristics important in the later development of high blood pressure. The association of early puberty with high adult BMI in both sexes highlights the importance of controlling obesity in those who mature early.

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