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Birth Size, Infant Weight Gain, and Motor Development Influence Adult Physical Performance


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: June 2009 - Volume 41 - Issue 6 - p 1212-1221
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31819794ab
Basic Sciences

Purpose: Adult physical performance is recognized as a marker of both current physical capacity and future health. The aim of the study was to examine the independent influences of birth weight, infant weight gain, and infant motor development on a variety of adult physical performance outcomes, in terms of muscular strength, muscular endurance, and aerobic fitness.

Methods: The study population consisted of 4304 individuals from the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1966 (NFBC 1966) with anthropometry measured at birth and at 1 yr. Infant motor development at age 1 yr was assessed by parentally reported age at first walking supported and standing unaided. At follow-up, aged 31 yr, muscle strength was measured using a handgrip dynamometer, muscle endurance was measured using a timed trunk extension test, and aerobic fitness was estimated from heart rate immediately after a standardized step test.

Results: Birth weight was positively associated with muscle strength and aerobic fitness at age 31 yr, and these associations were independent of adult body size (P < 0.001). Greater infant weight gain between 0 and 1 yr was associated with lower muscle endurance (P = 0.004) and poorer aerobic fitness (P = 0.002); these associations seemed to be mediated by adult body size. Independent of infant birth weight and adult body size (height and weight), earlier infant motor development was associated with greater adult muscle strength (P ≤ 0.001), muscle endurance (P < 0.001), and aerobic fitness (P < 0.001).

Conclusions: Higher birth weight, lower infant weight gain, and earlier infant motor development independently predict higher levels of adult physical performance for muscle strength, muscle endurance, and aerobic fitness at age 31 yr.

1MRC Epidemiology Unit, Institute of Metabolic Science, Cambridge, UNITED KINGDOM; 2Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Oulu, FINLAND; and 3Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, School of Medicine, Imperial College London, London, UNITED KINGDOM

Address for correspondence: Ulf Ekelund, Ph.D., MRC Epidemiology Unit, Institute of Metabolic Science, Box 285, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Hills Road, Cambridge, CB2 0QQ, United Kingdom; E-mail:

Submitted for publication August 2008.

Accepted for publication December 2008.

©2009The American College of Sports Medicine