Abdominal adipose tissue compartments vary with ethnicity in Asian neonates: Growing Up in Singapore Toward Healthy Outcomes birth cohort study1,2

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A susceptibility to metabolic diseases is associated with abdominal adipose tissue distribution and varies between ethnic groups. The distribution of abdominal adipose tissue at birth may give insights into whether ethnicity-associated variations in metabolic risk originate partly in utero.


We assessed the influence of ethnicity on abdominal adipose tissue compartments in Asian neonates in the Growing Up in Singapore Toward Healthy Outcomes mother-offspring cohort.


MRI was performed at ≤2 wk after birth in 333 neonates born at ≥34 wk of gestation and with birth weights ≥2000 g. Abdominal superficial subcutaneous tissue (sSAT), deep subcutaneous tissue (dSAT), and internal adipose tissue (IAT) compartment volumes (absolute and as a percentage of the total abdominal volume) were quantified.


In multivariate analyses that were controlled for sex, age, and parity, the absolute and percentage of dSAT and the percentage of sSAT (but not absolute sSAT) were greater, whereas absolute IAT (but not the percentage of IAT) was lower, in Indian neonates than in Chinese neonates. Compared with Chinese neonates, Malay neonates had greater percentages of sSAT and dSAT but similar percentages of IAT. Marginal structural model analyses largely confirmed the results on the basis of volume percentages with controlled direct effects of ethnicity on abdominal adipose tissue; dSAT was significantly greater (1.45 mL; 95% CI: 0.49, 2.41 mL, P = 0.003) in non-Chinese (Indian or Malay) neonates than in Chinese neonates. However, ethnic differences in sSAT and IAT were NS [3.06 mL (95% CI:-0.27, 6.39 mL; P = 0.0712) for sSAT and -1.30 mL (95% CI: -2.64, 0.04 mL; P = 0.057) for IAT in non-Chinese compared with Chinese neonates, respectively].


Indian and Malay neonates have a greater dSAT volume than do Chinese neonates. This finding supports the notion that in utero influences may contribute to higher cardiometabolic risk observed in Indian and Malay persons in our population. If such differences persist in the longitudinal tracking of adipose tissue growth, these differences may contribute to the ethnic disparities in risks of cardiometabolic diseases. This trial was registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT01174875.

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