Study Suggests Our Weight at Age Two Sets Our Ability to Regulate Metabolic Hormones as Adults

Journal: Journal of Endocrinology
Date: February 2020

Researchers designed a study to determine whether indicators of cardiovascular disease risk were associated with weight at different ages in childhood.  As part of the study, the investigators tested the hypothesis that the levels of three hormones in healthy French university 20-year-olds was related to their growth patterns in childhood.  They found that elevated risks for heart disease, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome later in life is associated with weight at age two. Metabolic syndrome is characterized by insulin resistance and elevated levels of cholesterol and blood pressure.

The most well-known hormone studied, insulin, is made in the pancreas. It helps regulate blood sugar levels by stimulating muscles to take up the sugar for fuel. The second hormone studied was leptin, which is made primarily by fat cells and is a powerful regulator of appetite. However if leptin levels in the blood get too high, it causes inflammation in the heart and blood vessels and is associated with cardiovascular disease. The third metabolic hormone studied was adiponectin. Adiponectin is also made by fat cells, and protects blood vessels from inflammation.


  • The smaller the participants (young, healthy 18-25-year olds) were at age two, the higher their levels of leptin and insulin.
  • High leptin levels in young adults are associated with insulin resistance, which allows blood sugar to remain elevated after a meal.
  • ‘Set points’ for leptin and insulin are determined in early childhood-- by the age of two.
  • Low weight at age two, due to low muscle mass, predicted lower levels of adiponectin in later life. Adiponectin protects against vascular inflammation and thus, low levels are a risk factor for metabolic syndrome. Further study into this relationship is warranted.

The primary finding of this study is that blood concentrations of the three hormones studied in healthy young adults, are determined by the growth patterns of a person during their first 1000 days after conception. Thus, it explains, in part, why people born at the low end of the birth-weight scale are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease as they become adults. This finding, along with studies on brain wiring, also suggests that a person’s appetite is highly influenced by growth patterns up to the age of two years. 

he OHSU Bob and Charlee Moore Institute for Nutrition & Wellness supports human research that seeks to find the links between maternal stresses, including poor nutrition, and elevated disease risks for babies as they become adolescents and adults. 

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Simeoni, U., Osmond, C., Garay, R., Buffat, C., Boubred, F., Chagnaud, C., Jouve, E., Audebert, C., Antoine, J., & Thornburg, K. (2020). Leptin and insulin in young adulthood are associated with weight in infancy, Journal of Endocrinology, 244(2), 249-259.