Sex differences in infant blood metabolite profile in association with weight and adiposity measures



Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) metabolic profiling quantifies a large number of metabolites. From adolescence, specific metabolites are influenced by age, sex and body mass index; data on early-life metabolic profiles are limited. We investigated associations between sex, birth weight, weight and adiposity with NMR metabolic profile at age 12 months.


The plasma NMR metabolic profile was quantified in infants (n = 485) from the Barwon Infant Study. Associations between 74 metabolites and sex, birth weight z-score and 12-month measures (weight z-score, skinfold thickness, weight-for-length z-score) were examined using linear regression models.


Several cholesterol and fatty acid measures were higher (0.2–0.3 SD) in girls than in boys; we observed modest sex-specific associations of birth weight z-scores and 12-month sum of skinfold thicknesses with metabolites. The pattern of associations between weight z-score and weight-for-length z-score with metabolites at 12 months was more pronounced in girls, particularly for fatty acid ratios.


We identified sex differences in the infant metabolic profile. Sex-specific patterns observed differ from those reported in older children and adults. We also identified modest cross-sectional associations between anthropometric and adiposity measures and metabolites, some of which were sex specific.

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Fig. 1: Differences in metabolite levels of 12-month-old girls and boys.
Fig. 2: Associations between birth weight and 12-month metabolites for girls and boys.
Fig. 3: Associations between 12-month weight z-score and metabolites for girls and boys.
Fig. 4: Associations between 12-month sum of skinfolds and metabolites for girls and boys.
Fig. 5: Associations between 12-month weight-for-length (WFL) z-score and metabolites for girls and boys.


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We thank the BIS participants for the generous contribution they have made to this project. We also thank current and past staff for their efforts in recruiting and maintaining the cohort and in obtaining and processing the data and biospecimens. The establishment work and infrastructure for the BIS was provided by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Deakin University and Barwon Health. Subsequent funding was secured from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, The Jack Brockhoff Foundation, the Scobie Trust, the Shane O’Brien Memorial Asthma Foundation, the Our Women’s Our Children’s Fund Raising Committee Barwon Health, The Shepherd Foundation, the Rotary Club of Geelong, the Ilhan Food Allergy Foundation, GMHBA Limited and the Percy Baxter Charitable Trust, Perpetual Trustees. In-kind support was provided by the Cotton On Foundation and CreativeForce. Research at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute is supported by the Victorian Government’s Operational Infrastructure Support Program. This work was also supported by NHMRC Senior Research Fellowships (APP1008396 to A.-L.P.; APP1064629 to D.B.; APP1045161 to R.S.).

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S.E., D.B., J.B.C., A.-L.P. and R.S. conceptualised and developed this study. S.E. and J.B.C. undertook all aspects of data analysis. F.C. coordinated sample shipping. S.E. and R.S. drafted the manuscript. All authors provided critical expert advice and critical review of the manuscript and approved the final version.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Richard Saffery.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

Ethical approval

The BIS protocol was approved by the Barwon Health Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC 10/24).

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Written informed consent was obtained from all participating families in the study.

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Members of the Barwon Infant Study Investigator Team are listed at the end of the paper.

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Ellul, S., Ponsonby, A., Carlin, J.B. et al. Sex differences in infant blood metabolite profile in association with weight and adiposity measures. Pediatr Res (2020).

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