Background: Low birth weight has been associated with several chronic diseases in adults, including hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and obesity. Further study of these diseases in a large cohort with information on a wide variety of risk factors is essential to determine more precisely the risks associated with birth weight.
Methods and results: We examined the relation between birth weight and cumulative incidence of adult hypertension, incidence of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, and prevalence of obesity in a cohort of 22,846 US men (Health Professionals Follow-up Study). Birth weights, medical histories, family histories, and other factors were collected by biennial mailed questionnaires. Logistic regression was used to examine the association between birth weight and these chronic adult diseases. Low birth weight was associated with an increased risk of hypertension and diabetes; high birth weight was associated with an increased risk of obesity. Compared with men in the referent birth weight category (7.0 to 8.4 lb), men who weighed < 5.5 lb had an age-adjusted odds ratio for hypertension of 1.26 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.11 to 1.44) and for diabetes mellitus of 1.75 (95% CI, 1.21 to 2.54). There was no material change after controlling for adult body mass index and parental histories of hypertension and diabetes mellitus. Compared with men in the referent group, the age-adjusted odds ratio of being in the highest versus the lowest quintile of adult body mass index for men with birth weight > or = 10.0 lb was 2.08 (95% CI, 1.73 to 2.50).
Conclusions: These findings support the hypothesis that early life exposures, for which birth weight is a marker, are associated with several chronic diseases in adulthood.