The "fetal origins" hypothesis suggests that fetal conditions not only affect birth characteristics such as birth weight and gestational age, but also have lifelong health implications. Despite widespread interest in this hypothesis, few methodological advances have been proposed to improve the measurement and modeling of fetal conditions. A Statistics in Medicine paper by Bollen, Noble, and Adair examined favorable fetal growth conditions (FFGC) as a latent variable. Their study of Filipino children from Cebu provided evidence consistent with treating FFGC as a latent variable that largely mediates the effects of mother's characteristics on birth weight, birth length, and gestational age. This innovative method may have widespread utility, but only if the model applies equally well across diverse settings. Our study assesses whether the FFGC model of Cebu replicates and generalizes to a very different population of children from North Carolina (N=705) and Pennsylvania (N=494). Using a series of structural equation models, we find that key features of the Cebu analysis replicate and generalize while we also highlight differences between these studies. Our results support treating fetal conditions as a latent variable when researchers test the fetal origins hypothesis. In addition to contributing to the substantive literature on measuring fetal conditions, we also discuss the meaning and challenges involved in replicating prior research.
Birth weight, birth length, and gestational age as indicators of favorable fetal growth conditions in a US sample