Prenatal life exposures, potentially manifested as altered birth size, may influence the later risk of major chronic diseases through direct biologic effects on disease processes, but also by modifying adult behaviors such as physical activity that may influence later disease risk.
We investigated the association between birth weight and leisure time physical activity (LTPA) in 43,482 adolescents and adults from 13 Nordic cohorts. Random effects meta-analyses were performed on categorical estimates from cohort-, age-, sex- and birth weight specific analyses. Birth weight showed a reverse U-shaped association with later LTPA; within the range of normal weight the association was negligible but weights below and above this range were associated with a lower probability of undertaking LTPA. Compared with the reference category (3.26–3.75 kg), the birth weight categories of 1.26–1.75, 1.76–2.25, 2.26–2.75, and 4.76–5.25 kg, had odds ratios of 0.67 (95% confidence interval: 0.47, 0.94), 0.72 (0.59, 0.88), 0.89 (0.79, 0.99), and 0.65 (0.50, 0.86), respectively. The shape and strength of the birth weight-LTPA association was virtually independent of sex, age, gestational age, educational level, concurrent body mass index, and smoking.
The association between birth weight and undertaking LTPA is very weak within the normal birth weight range, but both low and high birth weights are associated with a lower probability of undertaking LTPA, which hence may be a mediator between prenatal influences and later disease risk.