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When Health and Disease Begin

A steady stream of research has shown that diseases such as diabetes,1 heart disease,2 stroke,3 osteoporosis,4 and high blood pressure5 originate from impaired growth during pregnancy and infancy.6 Prenatal factors contributing to premature birth,7 obesity,8 ADHD,9 conduct disorder,10 asthma,11 lung disease,12 and other conditions are also emerging.

Nutrition before and during pregnancy and during infancy greatly influences how babies grow. Babies who grow normally are relatively protected from future disease13 while low birth weight babies and babies born thin or short are at risk.14

Prenatal Conditions Determine Risk

During early development, body systems go through critical phases when rapid growth occurs and vital functions are established.15 An embryo or fetus lacking essential nutrients or oxygen, or exposed to harmful substances such as tobacco and alcohol, may have to adapt by limiting the size and altering the function of some organs. These adaptations may increase the risk of certain diseases later in life.16

For example, the filtration units of the kidneys, called nephrons, stop forming around 33 weeks after fertilization.17 Undernutrition prior to that time may limit the number of nephrons and increase the future risk of high blood pressure.18

Lifelong Nutrition Matters!

A pregnant woman’s ability to provide a healthy prenatal environment for her baby depends in part on her overall health, whether she uses harmful substances such as tobacco and alcohol, and of course, her diet during pregnancy.19 It also depends on her lifelong nutritional history, which helps determine her muscle mass, bone mass, and vital stores of fat, vitamins, and minerals.20 All of these elements are crucial for the growing embryo and fetus—and the breastfeeding infant.

Prevention Begins with Prenatal Education

This research is revolutionizing our understanding about the ways a woman’s lifelong health and nutrition influence prenatal growth, and shape every child’s lifelong health and cognitive ability.

The way to dramatically enhance public health is now clear. Improve the health and nutrition of girls and young women before, during, and after pregnancy. Protect the embryo, fetus, and infant from harmful substances. Encourage breastfeeding. Improve infant and child nutrition.

Shaping the future begins with prenatal education.

“If we protect the health and nutrition of girls and young women, we can make an end of heart disease and diabetes.”
David J. P. Barker, M.D., Ph.D. From Nutrition in the Womb, The Barker Foundation, 2008.

Footnotes
1 Ong KK, Dunger DB, 2002. 202; International Diabetes Federation website, 2002. e-article.
2 Barker, Winter, et al., 1989. 579; Barker DJ, 1999. 305.
3 Eriksson JG et al., 2000. 873.
4 Cooper C et al., 2005. 2730S; Javaid MK et al., 2006. 36.
5 Leon DA et al., 1996. 405.
6 Hyppönen E et al., 2001. 1502; Barker DJP, 2008. 36.
7 Bukowski R et al., 2009. 6.
8 Dubois and Girard, 2006. 610.
9 Linnet KM et al., 2003. 1028; Braun JM et al., 2006. 1904; Millichap JG, 2008. e360.
10 Wakschlag LS et al., 1997. 670; Fergusson DM et al., 1998. 726; Langley K et al., 2007. e-article.
11 Devereux G et al., 2006. 502; Litonjua AA et al., 2006. 853.
12 Coming Soon, 2010. 100.
13 Barker DJP, 2008. 36.
14 Barker DJP, 2008. 141-155.
15 Barker DJ, Clark PM, 1997. 105; Barker DJP, 1998a. 85.
16 Barker DJP, 1998a. 13-15, 18-19; Gillman MW, 2005. 1848; Godfrey KM, Barker DJ, 2000. 1344S.
17 Moore and Persaud, 2008. 244.
18 Barker DJP, 2008. 44;
19 Barker DJP, 2008. v.
20 Barker DJP, 2008. 80-81, 148.


When Health Begins brochure/poster, Page 2   Back to Top


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