Birth weight and subsequent risk of obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Obes Rev. 2011 Jul;12(7):525-42. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2011.00867.x. Epub 2011 Mar 28.


This report describes the association between birth weight (BW) and obesity. Screening of 478 citations from five electronic databases resulted in the inclusion of 33 studies, most of medium quality. The meta-analysis included 20 of these published studies. The 13 remaining articles did not provide sufficient dichotomous data and were systematically reviewed, revealing results consistent with the meta-analysis. Our results revealed that high BW (>4000 g) was associated with increased risk of obesity (odds ratio [OR], 2.07; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.91-2.24) compared with subjects with BW ≤ 4000 g. Low BW (<2500 g) was associated with decreased risk of obesity (OR, 0.61; 95% CI, 0.46-0.80) compared with subjects with BW ≥ 2500 g. However, when two studies exhibited selection bias were removed, the results indicated no significant association between low BW and obesity (OR, 0.77; 95% CI, 0.58-1.04). Sensitivity analyses showed that differences in the study design, sample size and quality grade of the study had an effect on the low BW/obesity association, which low BW was not associated with the risk of obesity in cohort studies, studies with large sample sizes and studies with high quality grades. Pooled results were similar when normal birth weight (2500-4000 g) was used as the reference category. Subgroup analyses based on different growth and developmental stages (pre-school children, school children and adolescents) also revealed that high BW was associated with increased risk of obesity from childhood to early adulthood. No significant evidence of publication bias was present. These results suggest that high BW is associated with increased risk of obesity and may serve as a mediator between prenatal influences and later disease risk.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Birth Weight*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Humans
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Risk Factors