To investigate the mechanisms underlying the association between birth weight and type 2 diabetes in a population-based study of 3,061 Pima Indians aged 5-29 years. Glucose and insulin concentrations were measured during a 75-g oral glucose tolerance test, and insulin resistance was estimated according to the homeostatic model (homeostasis model assessment-insulin resistance [HOMA-IR]). Relationships between birth weight, height, weight, fasting and postload concentrations of glucose and insulin, and HOMA-IR were examined with multiple regression analyses. Birth weight was positively related to current weight and height (P 10 years of age, and this relation was independent of current body size. In 2,272 nondiabetic subjects, after adjustment for weight and height, fasting and 2-h insulin concentrations and HOMA-IR were negatively correlated with birth weight. Low-birth-weight Pimas are thinner at ages 5-29 years, yet they are more insulin resistant relative to their body size than those of normal birth weight. By contrast, those with high birth weight are more obese but less insulin resistant relative to their body size. The insulin resistance of low-birth-weight Pima Indians may explain their increased risk for type 2 diabetes.