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Summary

The risk of short adult stature in women born small-for-gestational age (SGA) was estimated in this prospective cohort study of 43 872 singleton females, born between 1973 and 1983, who gave birth to a child between 1989 and 1999. The risk of overweight in females born SGA, with and without short adult stature, was also studied. All data on birth characteristics and adult height and weight were obtained from the Swedish Birth Register. SGA-born females were divided into being born short only for gestational age [birth length < −2 standard deviation scores (SDS)], born light for gestational age (birthweight < −2 SDS) or being born both short and light for gestational age. Short adult stature was defined as adult height below −2 SDS.

Among females, being born SGA (<−2 SDS in birth length or birthweight) was associated with increased risk of short adult stature, compared with being born appropriate for gestational age. The risk varied substantially within different subgroups of females born SGA: being born short for gestational age was associated with an almost fivefold increased risk [odds ratio (OR) 4.89; 95% confidence interval (CI) 3.70, 6.47] of short adult stature, whereas being born light for gestational age was associated with an almost twofold increased risk [OR 1.95, 95% CI 1.43, 2.65].

Overall, females born SGA did not have increased risk of overweight compared with females with appropriate size at birth. However, among females born short for gestational age, short adult stature was associated with an increased risk of overweight in adulthood [OR 1.77, 95% CI 1.01, 3.12].

In conclusion, among females born SGA, of the birth characteristics, short birth length is associated with the highest increased risk of short adult stature. Spontaneous growth in height to normal adult stature reduced the risk of overweight in females born short for gestational age.