Barker’s hypothesis

The epidemiologist Dr. David Barker was the earliest proponent of the theory of fetal origins of adult disease, prompting the theory to be denoted as “Barker’s hypothesis.” In 1986, Dr. Barker published findings proposing a direct link between prenatal nutrition and late-onset coronary heart disease.[5] He had noticed that the poorest areas of England were the same areas with the highest rates of heart disease, unearthing the predictive relationship between low birth weight and adult disease. His findings were met with criticism, mainly because at the time heart disease was considered to be predominantly determined by lifestyle and genetic factors. Since Barker’s initial findings, the results have been replicated in diverse populations of Europe, Asia, North American, Africa, and Australia.[2] In explanation of such findings, Barker suggests that fetuses learn to adapt to the environment they expect to enter into once outside of the womb. Essentially, all transmissions entering the placenta act as “postcards” giving the fetus clues as to the outside world, preparing its physiology appropriately.[2] This can be an adaptive mechanism, when fetal conditions accurately represent the world of birth; alternatively, it can be a harmful mechanism, when fetal conditions of plentitude or scarcity do not match the world of birth and the child has been physiologically predisposed to inhabit an environment where expected resources are drastically different from reality.

Thrifty phenotype

The thrifty phenotype hypothesis proposes that a low availability of nutrients during the prenatal stage followed by an improvement in nutritional availability in early childhood causes an increase risk of metabolic disorders, including Type II Diabetes, as a result of permanent changes in the metabolic processing of glucose-insulin determined in utero.[6] This predominantly affects poor communities, where maternal malnutrition may be rampant, in turn causing fetuses to be biologically programmed to expect sparse nutritional environments. But, once in the world, the readily accessible processed foods consumed are unable to be processed efficiently by individuals who had their metabolic systems pre-set to expect scarcity. This difference between expected nutritional deficits and actual food surplus results in obesity and eventually Type II Diabetes.[7] Janet Rich-Edwards, an epedemiologist at Harvard Medical School, initially set out to disprove the fetal origins theory with her database of over 100,000 nurses. Instead, she found that the results hold: a strong relationship exists between low birth weight and later coronary heart disease and stroke.


Connie’s comments: Months before conception and during pregnancy, new mother must choose the right nutrition, lifestyle and healthy environment for the growing fetus.