Physical growth

Birth weight (to the nearest quarter of a pound) was extracted from birth records within a few weeks of delivery. Birth weight has been converted to kg.

Height and weight

In addition to their birth weight, the height and weight of the study members has been recorded 13 times: in 1948, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1957, 1961, 1966, 1972, 1982, 1989, 1999, 2006-10 and 2014-16.  The Body Mass Index (BMI) has been calculated at each available time point. 

From age two to 15 years weight was measured to the nearest quarter of a pound and height was measured to the nearest inch. Measurements were taken by school doctors or nurses with children only wearing their underclothes. Due to these measurements taking up to a year to collect, date of measurement (in months) for all but age two years are also recorded.
Childhood relative weights are also calculated, based on the exact date of measurement and sex. They are derived such that relative weight is independent of height1).

At ages 20 and 26 the measurements were self reported in feet and inches and stones and pounds respectively.  The recommended variables have been cleaned (up until age 26 years by Stark et al 1981) and converted to metric units where necessary. BMI was calculated as weight(kg) / height2 (m) at each age.

At ages 36, 43, 53, 60-64 and 68-70 weight was measured to the nearest 0.1kg with study members wearing light indoor clothing and no shoes. Height was measured to the nearest 0.5cm using a portable stadiometer, with participants standing without shoes and with heels against the wall as tall as possible with the head in the Frankfort Plane.

Overall pubertal growth measures were derived using the Super-Imposition by Translation And Rotation (SITAR) method, developed by Tim Cole. SITAR growth curve analysis is effective at summarizing pubertal growth. NSHD anthropometry data were modelled jointly with a second cohort (ALSPAC) to improve the fit, due to relatively infrequent height and weight measurements at puberty. For further details see publication two below.

Body size

Study members' waist and hip circumference was measured, to the nearest mm, twice at age 36 (along with a pregnancy indicator). Waist and hips were also measured twice at 43 and once at 53, 60-64 and 69. The waist to hip ratio has been derived for these years.
Waist circumference was measured by the nurse making two marks with a waterproof pen at the costal margin and the iliac crest. The measurement was then taken by applying the measuring tape around the body at a point midway between these two points, in line with the mid axilla.
The hip measurement is the circumference where the measuring tape is level with the greater trochanter.

Chest circumference and expanded chest circumference were measured, to the nearest mm, twice at 43 and once at 53 years. Right upper arm circumference was measured twice at 36 years and 43 years, and once at 53 and 60-64 years.
Chest circumference was measured in men at nipple level, and in women immediately below the breasts at the end of a normal expiration. Participants were then asked to take a deep breath and hold it while the expanded chest circumference was measured.

Sitting height at ages 43 and 53 years was also measured to the nearest 0.5cm, and at 60-64 years sitting height was measured to the nearest 0.1cm.  This is considered a measure of trunk length. Participants were asked to sit upright, with their back against the vertical stand of the stadiometer, on the base plate located on a hard, flat seat, with the head in the Frankfort plane and their feet on the floor.  Leg length was calculated as the difference between standing and sitting heights.

Parental height and weight

The height of the study member's mother was measured by health visitors, at clinics using their own protocols, when the study member was aged six years, and mothers reported the height of the father.  If the nurse was unable to get the actual measurement, then an estimate could be given. The mothers reported the height of the father. We believe this to apply to parental weights as well but the study documentation is unclear.

Selected publications

1) Strand et al, Adolescent and early adult body mass index in relation to adult mortality: results from the British 1946 birth cohort. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health; volume 66, issue 3.

2) Cole et al, Using Super-Imposition by Translation And Rotation (SITAR) to relate pubertal growth to bone health in later life: the Medical Research Council (MRC) National Survey of Health and Development. International Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 45, Issue 4, 1 August 2016, Pages 1125–1134.

Obtaining the standard anthropometry variables

  • You can obtain a list of the standard topic variables to use in an NSHD data sharing request by selecting the link at the end of this page.

More information is available on this topic - including the main variable naming conventions and some value labels.

HTML version of the standard variables to view

see Cole TJ. A method for assessing age-standardized weight-for-height in children seen cross-sectionally. Ann Hum Biol 1979; 6:249-268
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