When is birthweight at term (≥37 weeks' gestation) abnormally low? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the prognostic and predictive ability of current birthweight standards for childhood and adult outcomes

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BACKGROUND: Health outcomes throughout the life course have been linked to fetal growth restriction and low birthweight. A variety of measures exist to define low birthweight, with a lack of consensus regarding which predict adverse outcome.

OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the relationship between birthweight standards and childhood and adult outcomes in term-born infants (≥37 weeks' gestation).

SEARCH STRATEGY: MEDLINE (1966-January 2011), EMBASE (1980-January 2011), and the Cochrane Library (2011:1) and MEDION were included.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Studies comprising live term-born infants (gestation ≥37 completed weeks), with weight or other anthropometric measurements recorded at birth along with childhood and adult outcomes.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Data were extracted to populate 2 × 2 tables relating birthweight standard with outcome, and meta-analysis was performed where possible.

MAIN RESULTS: Fifty-nine articles (2 600 383 individuals) were selected. There was no significant relationship between birthweight <2.5 kg (odds ratio [OR] 0.98, 95% confidence intervals [CI] 0.87-1.10) and composite measure of childhood morbidity. Weight <10th centile on the population nomogram showed a small association (OR 1.49, 95% CI 1.02-2.19) for the same outcome. There was no significant association between either of the above measures and adult morbidity. The relationship between other measures and individual outcomes varied.

AUTHOR'S CONCLUSIONS: The association between low birthweight, by any definition, and childhood and adult morbidity was inconsistent. None of the current standards of low birthweight was a good predictor of adverse outcome.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)634-42
Number of pages9
JournalBJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology
Issue number5
Early online date20 Jan 2015
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015


  • Adult, Child, Chronic Disease, Female, Humans, Infant, Low Birth Weight, Infant, Newborn, Male, Morbidity, Odds Ratio, Predictive Value of Tests, Prognosis, Research Design, Term Birth