• Birth weight;
  • meta-analysis;
  • obesity;
  • review


We performed a systematic literature review on the associations between birth size and abdominal adiposity in adults, while also investigating the role of the adjustment for adult body mass index (BMI). MEDLINE, Scopus, Web of Science, LILACS and SciELO databases were searched for articles published up to February 2013. Only prospective studies were included. After screening 2,570 titles, we selected 31 publications for the narrative synthesis, of which 13 were considered to be of high methodological quality. Six main indicators of birth size were identified, and birth weight (BW) was the most extensively studied. Most studies relied on anthropometric measurements as proxies for abdominal fatness or as indicators of body fat distribution. Few studies assessed abdominal adiposity through imaging methods, generally with small sample sizes. Eleven articles could be included in the meta-analyses. BW was found to be positively associated with waist circumference in adulthood, but the association disappeared after adjustment for adult BMI. In contrast, there was no association between BW and waist-to-hip ratio, whereas a strong negative association became evident after controlling for adult BMI. In conclusion, BW seems to be associated with larger adult size in general, including both waist and hip circumferences. The marked change in coefficients after adjustment for adult BMI suggests that post-natal growth strongly affects relative central adiposity, whereas BW per se does not play a role. Given the potential impact of post-natal growth, further research is needed to identify different growth trajectories that lead to abdominal adiposity, as well as studies on interactions of foetal and post-natal growth patterns.