Height, adiposity and hormonal cardiovascular risk markers in childhood: how to partition the associations?

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Obesity is associated with rapid growth during childhood. There is uncertainty over how to adjust for body size, when using adiposity as a proxy for cardiovascular risk. We studied associations of height, body composition (by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry) and cardiovascular risk markers (insulin resistance (IR), leptin) in children.


Using partial correlations in 172 children aged 7-12 years, we investigated associations of (a) fat mass with IR or leptin, adjusting for height or lean mass, and (b) height or lean mass with IR or leptin, adjusting for fat mass. Analyses were conducted both cross-sectionally at each age, and for changes between 7 and 12 years.


Height, fat mass, lean mass, IR and leptin were all inter-correlated at all ages. Although fat mass was strongly associated with IR and leptin, height was independently negatively associated with leptin (whole sample, adjusting for age: boys r = -0.12, girls r = -0.13; P<0.001). Independent of adiposity, height was also associated with insulin IR (whole sample, adjusting for age: boys r = 0.11, girls r = 0.20; P<0.001). When analysed by year of age, these associations tended to remain significant at older ages. Change in height from 7 to 12 years was also associated with change in IR (boys: r = 0.18, P<0.05; girls: r = 0.34, P<0.01), independently of change in adiposity, with similar findings for lean mass.


During childhood, markers of cardiovascular risk have a complex profile, associated with growth as well as fat accumulation. Taller and faster-growing children have elevated risk markers, independently of their adiposity. These findings have implications for the interpretation of pediatric indices of adiposity that aim to adjust for body size. Adiposity indices that perform best at summarizing metabolic risk may not be those that perform best at understanding the developmental aetiology of risk.

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