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Placenta size ‘linked to offspring bone development’

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A larger placenta during pregnancy could lead to larger bones in the children, according to UK researchers.

They studied 518 children in the long-running Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, who underwent bone scans at nine, 15 and 17 years old.

“These findings really help us to understand the possible mechanisms whereby factors… may influence offspring bone development”

Nicholas Harvey

Measurements such as thickness, volume and weight, were also taken from the mothers’ placenta.

Researchers from the University of Southampton and the University of Bristol found that greater placental size at birth was associated with larger bones at each age in childhood.

The study, published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, found the relationship remained robust even after adjusting for factors such as the child’s height and weight.

The researchers suggested the latest research offered new insights into earlier observations linking maternal factors in pregnancy with offspring bone health.

For example, larger bones in early life are likely to lead to larger, stronger bones in older adulthood, which reduces the risk of osteoporosis and broken bones in later life.

Lead researcher Professor Nicholas Harvey said: “Whilst there are many factors which are likely to influence placental size and function – and importantly, we don’t know as yet whether a larger placenta actually causes the greater offspring bone mass – these findings really help us to understand the possible mechanisms whereby factors such as maternal diet, smoking, physical activity and vitamin D status may influence offspring bone development.”

He said the study built on previous work demonstrating that positive associations between placental size and offspring bone size were maintained even through puberty.

Professor Cyrus Cooper, also from Southampton, added, “This work forms part of a larger programme of research seeking to develop interventions in early life aimed at optimising bone development and reducing the risk of osteoporotic fracture in older age.”

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