Birth weight and muscle strength: a systematic review and meta-analysis

J Nutr Health Aging. 2012 Jul;16(7):609-15. doi: 10.1007/s12603-012-0053-9.


Objective: Lower muscle strength is associated with a range of adverse health outcomes in later life. The variation in muscle strength between individuals is only partly accounted for by factors in adult life such as body size and physical activity. The aim of this review was to assess the strength of the association between intrauterine development (indicated by birth weight) and subsequent muscle strength.

Design: Systematic review and meta-analysis of studies that assessed the association between birth weight and subsequent muscle strength.

Results: Nineteen studies met inclusion criteria with 17 studies showing that higher birth weight was associated with greater muscle strength. Grip strength was used as a single measure of muscle strength in 15 studies. Meta-analysis (13 studies, 20 481 participants, mean ages 9.3 to 67.5) showed a 0.86 kg (95% CI 0.58, 1.15) increase in muscle strength per additional kilogram of birth weight, after adjustment for age, gender and height at the time of strength measurement.

Conclusion: This review has found consistent evidence of a positive association between birth weight and muscle strength which is maintained across the lifecourse. Future work will be needed to elucidate the biological mechanisms underlying this association, but it suggests the potential benefit of an early intervention to help people maintain muscle strength in later life.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Birth Weight*
  • Body Height
  • Body Weight
  • Databases, Factual
  • Hand Strength
  • Humans
  • Muscle Development
  • Muscle Strength / physiology*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors