OBJECTIVES: To investigate whether impaired fetal growth, measured by low birth weight and short birth length, is linked with raised levels of serum lipids and increased risk and mortality of coronary heart disease. DESIGN: The association between birth length, birth weight, Ponderal Index and total serum cholesterol was examined in 545 Danish men and women aged 31 to 51 years who participated in the Ebeltoft Health Promotion Project in Denmark. RESULTS: No associations were found in women. For men, a negative association was found between birth weight and serum total cholesterol, with a fall in mean serum total cholesterol from 6.03 mmol/l at birth weight below 3300 g to 5.64 mmol/l at birth weight above 4000. A similar association was found between birth length and serum cholesterol, with a mean value of 6.23 mmol/l at birth length below 51 cm and a mean value of 5.56 mmol/l at birth length above 54 cm. No associations were found for Ponderal Index. Between 3% and 8% of the variance in serum total cholesterol could be explained by the statistical models used in this study. CONCLUSION: Our findings support the hypothesis of a negative association between birth weight, birth length and elevated serum cholesterol in adult life, but only in men.