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Rheumatology (Oxford). 2003 Jun;42(6):791-6. Epub 2003 Apr 30.

Association of birth weight with osteoporosis and osteoarthritis in adult twins.

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  • 1St Thomas' Hospital, Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology Unit, London, UK.



Twin studies present a unique opportunity to examine the association of birth weight with adult life phenotypes in a design that naturally accounts for maternal factors and a range of early environmental factors, which might potentially bias the association. In this study, we explored the association of birth weight with osteoporosis (OP) and osteoarthritis (OA), in a large national cohort of female twins.


Intra-pair differences between the reported birth weight of the twins (n=4008) were examined for an association with: (i) intra-pair differences in bone mineral density (BMD) and bone mineral content (BMC) at the lumbar spine, hip and forearm using linear regression; and (ii) osteoarthritis status in pairs discordant for radiographic disease at the hand, hip and knee using matched logistic regression. The confounding influences of height and weight were taken into account.


The mean age of the twins was 47.5+/-12.3 yr. Intra-pair differences in birth weight were significantly associated with BMD at the spine (P=0.047), total hip (P=0.016) and femoral neck (P<0.001), but not at the forearm (P=0.245). These were entirely explained by the birth weight association with height and weight. The associations of intra-pair differences in birth weight and BMC were highly significant (P<0.001) at all sites, but were partly explained by adjustment for adult height and weight. We found no clear association between intra-pair birth weight differences and OA in twins discordant for any of the radiographic OA phenotypes at any site.


Bone mass and especially BMC are highly associated with birth weight. These associations are accounted for mainly by environmental factors that are independent of maternal factors such as gestational age, maternal smoking and nutrition, and are largely mediated by skeletal size and particularly adult height. Birth weight does not appear to be a major influence on the later development of radiographic OA in women.

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