Open Access Open Badges Research article

A principal components approach to parent-to-newborn body composition associations in South India

Sargoor R Veena1*, Ghattu V Krishnaveni1, Andrew K Wills2, Jacqueline C Hill3 and Caroline HD Fall2

Author Affiliations

1 Epidemiology Research Unit, Holdsworth Memorial Hospital, Mysore, South India

2 MRC Epidemiology Resource Centre, Southampton General Hospital, Southampton, UK

3 Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Cure International Hospital, Kabul, Afghanistan

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BMC Pediatrics 2009, 9:16  doi:10.1186/1471-2431-9-16

Published: 24 February 2009



Size at birth is influenced by environmental factors, like maternal nutrition and parity, and by genes. Birth weight is a composite measure, encompassing bone, fat and lean mass. These may have different determinants. The main purpose of this paper was to use anthropometry and principal components analysis (PCA) to describe maternal and newborn body composition, and associations between them, in an Indian population. We also compared maternal and paternal measurements (body mass index (BMI) and height) as predictors of newborn body composition.


Weight, height, head and mid-arm circumferences, skinfold thicknesses and external pelvic diameters were measured at 30 ± 2 weeks gestation in 571 pregnant women attending the antenatal clinic of the Holdsworth Memorial Hospital, Mysore, India. Paternal height and weight were also measured. At birth, detailed neonatal anthropometry was performed. Unrotated and varimax rotated PCA was applied to the maternal and neonatal measurements.


Rotated PCA reduced maternal measurements to 4 independent components (fat, pelvis, height and muscle) and neonatal measurements to 3 components (trunk+head, fat, and leg length). An SD increase in maternal fat was associated with a 0.16 SD increase (β) in neonatal fat (p < 0.001, adjusted for gestation, maternal parity, newborn sex and socio-economic status). Maternal pelvis, height and (for male babies) muscle predicted neonatal trunk+head (β = 0. 09 SD; p = 0.017, β = 0.12 SD; p = 0.006 and β = 0.27 SD; p < 0.001). In the mother-baby and father-baby comparison, maternal BMI predicted neonatal fat (β = 0.20 SD; p < 0.001) and neonatal trunk+head (β = 0.15 SD; p = 0.001). Both maternal (β = 0.12 SD; p = 0.002) and paternal height (β = 0.09 SD; p = 0.030) predicted neonatal trunk+head but the associations became weak and statistically non-significant in multivariate analysis. Only paternal height predicted neonatal leg length (β = 0.15 SD; p = 0.003).


Principal components analysis is a useful method to describe neonatal body composition and its determinants. Newborn adiposity is related to maternal nutritional status and parity, while newborn length is genetically determined. Further research is needed to understand mechanisms linking maternal pelvic size to fetal growth and the determinants and implications of the components (trunk v leg length) of fetal skeletal growth.