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BACKGROUND: Size in early life is related to adult body mass index, and early environmental influences have been proposed to have lifelong consequences for obesity. However, body mass index also reflects fat-free mass, and few studies have examined the relation between size in early life and direct measures of body composition in older people. OBJECTIVE: We investigated the associations of birth weight and weight at 1 y of age with body composition in older men. DESIGN: We carried out a retrospective cohort study in Hertfordshire, United Kingdom. Men who were born between 1931 and 1939 and for whom there were records of birth weight and weight at 1 y of age (n = 737) participated in the study. The main outcome measures were adult body mass index, fat-free mass, and fat mass. RESULTS: Birth weight was significantly and consistently positively associated with adult body mass index and fat-free mass but not with measures of adult fat mass. In contrast, weight at 1 y of age was associated with adult body mass index, fat-free mass, and fat mass. CONCLUSIONS: The consistently reported positive relation between birth weight and adult body mass index may reflect prenatal and maternal influences on fat-free mass rather than on fat mass in older people. The postnatal environment may be more influential than prenatal factors in the development of obesity in later life.

Original publication




Journal article


Am j clin nutr

Publication Date





199 - 203


Adipose Tissue, Birth Weight, Body Composition, Body Mass Index, Body Weight, Cohort Studies, Humans, Infant, Infant, Newborn, Longitudinal Studies, Male, Middle Aged, Obesity, Retrospective Studies, United Kingdom