Birth weight and adult health in historical perspective: Evidence from a New Zealand cohort, 1907-1922

Evan Roberts, Pamela Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


We provide new historical evidence on the developmental origins of health and disease in a cohort of boys born between 1907 and 1922 in Wellington, New Zealand. Using a dataset of 1523 birth records that include birth weight and length we find 852 (58%) of the adult cohort in World War II records measuring stature, body mass and blood pressure. On average, the boys weighed 3.5kg at birth, similar to Australian and American babies of the era, and nearly identical to full-term New Zealand babies in the 1990s. Using OLS regression models we estimate the effect of birth weight on adult stature and systolic blood pressure. We find an increase in birth weight of 1kg is associated with an increase in stature of 2.6cm (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.6cm-3.6cm), and a decrease in systolic blood pressure of 2.1mm/Hg (95% CI - 5.00 to 0.67). This is the earliest cohort by fifty years for whom the fetal origins hypothesis has been examined in early adulthood. Our estimates of the effect of birth weight on blood pressure are towards the upper end of the range of published estimates in modern cohorts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)154-161
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Apr 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was carried out while both authors were employed at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences generously provided funding for the research. We thank the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages for facilitating our research by providing access to confidential birth registers, and the Personnel Archives of the New Zealand Defence Force for providing access to personnel files. Sarah Bryant provided exemplary research assistance. The Victoria University of Wellington Human Ethics Committee granted ethical permission for this research. Evan Roberts acknowledges further support from the Minnesota Population Center (5R24HD041023), funded through grants from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).


  • BMI
  • Barker's hypothesis
  • Birth weight
  • Blood pressure
  • Historical
  • New Zealand
  • Stature


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