Low Birth Weight and Risk of Later-Life Physical Disability in Women

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2017 Apr 1;72(4):543-547. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glw134.


Background: There is strong evidence that low and high birth weight due to in-utero programming results in elevated risk for adult diseases, though less research has been performed examining the influence of birth weight and physical disability later in life.

Methods: Baseline data from 76,055 postmenopausal women in the Women's Health Initiative, a large multi-ethnic cohort, were used to examine the association between self-reported birth weight category (<6 lbs, 6-7 lbs 15 oz, 8-9 lbs 15 oz, and ≥10 lbs) and the self-reported physical functioning score on the RAND 36-item Health Survey. Linear regression models were adjusted for age, education, race/ethnicity, body mass index, and a comorbidity score.

Results: Unadjusted models indicate that women born in the lowest and highest birth weight categories have significantly lower physical functioning scores as compared to women born in the normal weight category (β = -2.22, p < .0001 and β = -3.56, p < .0001, respectively). After adjustments, the relationship between the lowest birth weight category and physical functioning score remained significant (β = -1.52, p < .0001); however, the association with the highest birth weight category dissipated.

Conclusions: Preconception and prenatal interventions aimed at reducing the incidence of low birth weight infants may subsequently reduce the burden of later-life physical disability.

Keywords: Birth weight; Developmental Origins of Health and Disease hypothesis; Physical disability; Physical functioning.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Developmental Disabilities / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors