Background: Birth order has been proposed as a cardiovascular risk factor, because the lower birth weight and greater infant weight gain typical of firstborns could programme metabolism detrimentally.
Methods: We examined the associations of birth order (firstborn or laterborn) with birth weight-for-gestational age, length/height and body mass index (BMI) z-scores during infancy, childhood, and puberty using generalized estimating equations, with age at pubertal onset using interval- censored regression and with age-, sex- and height-standardized blood pressure, height and BMI z-scores at 13 years using linear regression in a population-representative Chinese birth cohort: “Children of 1997” (n = 8,327).
Results: Compared with laterborns, firstborns had lower birth weight-for-gestational age (mean difference = -0.18 z-score, 95% confidence interval (CI) -0.23, -0.14), lower infant BMI (-0.09 z-score, 95% CI -0.14, -0.04), greater childhood height (0.10 z-score, 95% CI 0.05, 0.14) and BMI (0.08 z-score, 95% CI 0.03, 0.14), but not greater pubertal BMI (0.05 z-score, 95% CI -0.02, 0.11), adjusted for sex, parental age, birthplace, education and income. Firstborns had earlier onset of pubic hair (time ratio = 0.988, 95% CI 0.980, 0.996), but not breast or genitalia, development. Firstborns had greater BMI (0.07 z-score, 95% CI 0.002, 0.15), but not height (0.05 z-score, 95% CI -0.01, 0.11), at 13 years, but similar blood pressure.
Conclusions: Differences by birth order continue into early adolescence with firstborns being heavier with earlier pubic hair development, which could indicate long-term cardiovascular risk.