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BACKGROUND: It has been suggested that there is a link between fetal growth and chronic diseases later in life. Several studies have shown a negative association between birthweight and cardiovascular diseases, as well as cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Far fewer studies have focused on the association between size at birth and blood lipid concentrations. We have conducted a qualitative assessment of the direction and consistency of the relationship between size at birth and blood lipid concentrations to see whether the suggested relationship between intrauterine growth and cardiovascular diseases is mediated by lipid metabolism. METHODS: A literature search covering the period January 1966 to January 2003 was performed using Medline, Embase, and Web of Science. All papers written in English and reporting the relationship between size at birth and lipid levels in humans were assessed. Bibliographies were searched for further publications. RESULTS: From an initial screen of 1198 references, 39 papers were included involving 28 578 individuals. There was no consistent relationship between size at birth and blood lipid levels; the one exception being triglyceride concentration, which showed statistically significant negative or U-shaped, but not positive, relationships with birthweight. CONCLUSION: This review does not strongly support a link between birthweight and blood lipid levels in later life. However, the research in this area is limited and in order to make any definitive conclusions, longitudinal studies with sufficient power, data, and prospective follow-up are needed.

Original publication




Journal article


Int J Epidemiol

Publication Date





862 - 876


Birth Weight, Cardiovascular Diseases, Cholesterol, Embryonic and Fetal Development, Female, Humans, Infant, Newborn, Lipids, Lipoproteins, HDL, Lipoproteins, LDL, Male, Triglycerides