The purpose of this study was to evaluate the association between body size from birth to adulthood and bone mineral content (BMC) and bone mineral density (BMD) at the age of 31 years in a longitudinal study of the Northern Finland birth cohort for 1966. Data were collected at birth, 1, 14, and 31 years. This analysis was restricted to a subsample of individuals (n =1,099) for whom the BMC (g) and BMD measurements (g/cm(2)) were performed on the distal and ultradistal radius by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) at the age of 31 years. Determinants of low BMC and BMD were analyzed using multivariate logistic regression. Growth retardation at birth, being underweight (BMI < or =20.0 kg/m(2)) at 31 years, and having a low calcium intake at 31 years were associated independently with low BMD at 31 years. Additionally, the proportion of subjects with low BMD was higher among those who had low standardized body weight (< or =1 SD) both at birth and at 14 years, and both at 14 and 31 years. Body weight at 31 years was the strongest associating factor of BCM at 31 years. Growth retardation at birth has long-lasting effects on adult bone mineral content and density of the distal and ultradistal radius independently of later body size, although adult body weight seems to be a most important determinant of BMC at the age of 31 years. Thinness and a low calcium intake are associated with low bone mineral content and density at 31 years of age. Further studies are needed to evaluate if these groups are at increased risk of osteoporosis in old age.