Objective: Low birth weight has been linked to lower lean body mass and abdominal obesity later in life, whereas high birth weight has been suggested to predict later obesity as indicated by high body mass index (BMI). We examined how birth weight was related to adult body size, body composition and grip strength.
Design/subjects: Cross-sectional study on 928 men and 1075 women born in 1934-1944, with measurements at birth recorded.
Measurements: Height, weight, waist and hip circumference and isometric grip strength were measured. Lean and fat body mass were estimated by bioelectrical impedance with an eight-polar tactile electrode system.
Results: A 1 kg increase in birth weight corresponded in men to a 4.1 kg (95% CI: 3.1, 5.1) and in women to a 2.9 kg (2.1, 3.6) increase in adult lean mass. This association remained significant after adjustment for age, adult body size, physical activity, smoking status, social class and maternal size. Grip strength was positively related to birth weight through its association with lean mass. The positive association of birth weight with adult BMI was explained by its association with lean mass. Low birth weight was related to higher body fat percentage only after adjustment for adult BMI. Abdominal obesity was not predicted by low birth weight.
Conclusions: Low birth weight is associated with lower lean mass in adult life and thus contributes to the risk of relative sarcopenia and the related functional inability at the other end of the lifespan. At a given level of adult BMI, low birth weight predicts higher body fat percentage.