Although several studies have shown that reduced size at birth predicts glucose intolerance and insulin resistance in adult life, the relation has been inconsistent and usually stronger for ponderal index than for birthweight. We examined glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity (by the euglycaemic clamp method) in relation to size at birth in 709 men aged 69-73 years in Uppsala, Sweden. After adjusting for adult body mass index, prevalence of glucose intolerance (defined as diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance) was inversely related to birthweight. In men born at term, there was a positive monotonic relation of insulin sensitivity with birthweight, strongest in those who were overweight at age 70. This relation was reversed in men born before term (p = 0.005 for interaction between pre-term birth and birthweight effect). Glucose intolerance and insulin resistance showed inverted U-shaped relations with ponderal index, in contrast with the monotonic inverse relation seen in this cohort at earlier ages. This change in form of the relations was partly accounted for by selective loss to follow-up between ages 60 and 70 years. These results confirm that the association between reduced fetal growth and glucose intolerance is mediated through insulin resistance and depends upon an interaction with obesity in adult life. This relation is obscured when pre-term births are included. Failure to stratify by gestational age in previous studies could account for inconsistencies in the relations of insulin resistance and glucose intolerance to size at birth and for the detection of stronger associations with ponderal index than with birthweight.