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Barker's Theory of Fetal Programming

English epidemiologist David Barker and his associates at the University of Southampton discovered much of what is known about the lifelong impact of early growth and development. Their pioneering work has ushered in a new field of medicine and a whole new way of promoting health and preventing disease.

"Fetal programming" is the phrase often used to describe permanent changes resulting from the prenatal environment.21


Associations Between Prenatal Factors and Lifelong Health


Before and/or during pregnancy...

When a mother lacks: …Then her baby is more likely to develop:
Folic acid Spina bifida,22 preterm birth23
Iodine Brain damage,24 hypothyroidism25
Vitamin D Osteoporosis26
Vitamin E Asthma27

During pregnancy...

When a mother: …Then her baby is more likely to develop:
Experiences excess stress and anxiety Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and anxiety28
Smokes cigarettes ADHD,29 conduct disorder,30 obesity,31 diabetes,32 heart disease,33 preterm birth,34 stillbirth,35 SIDS*36
Drinks alcohol Fetal Alcohol Syndrome,37 alcohol abuse,38 conduct disorder,39 ADHD,40 preterm birth41

*Sudden Infant Death Syndrome


Hope for the Future

It is important to keep in mind that, although these prenatal factors increase the risk of certain complications, they in no way guarantee that any complication will occur.

Anyone who experienced a less-than-ideal pregnancy should not panic or lose hope. Even if a problem develops, most are treatable and many have other risk factors that can be modified to minimize risk. The good news is that new ways to minimize long-term consequences have already been discovered.42

Nevertheless, given the many associations between prenatal events and lifelong health that have been reported worldwide, it is imperative to do all we can to improve women's health and nutrition starting long before pregnancy and during pregnancy and breastfeeding.


Footnotes
21 Barker DJP, 1998a. 13.
22 Williams JL et al., 2006. S67; Williams LJ et al., 2005. 580.
23 Bukowski R et al., 2009. 6.
24 The world health report 2002 - Reducing Risks, Promoting Healthy Life, 2002. 4.
25 Haddow JE et al., 1999. 549.
26 Cooper C et al., 2005. 2730S-2731S; Javaid MK et al., 2006. 36.
27 Devereux G et al., 2006. 502; Litonjua AA et al., 2006. 853.
28 Van den Bergh BR, Marcoen A, 2004. 1092.
29 Linnet KM et al., 2003. 1028; Braun JM et al., 2006. 1904; Millichap JG, 2008. e360.
30 Wakschlag LS et al., 1997. 670; Fergusson DM et al., 1998. 726; Langley K et al., 2007. e-article.
31 Adams AK et al,, 2005. 396-397; Dubois and Girard, 2006. 610, 617; Power C, Jefferis BJ, 2002. 416-417; Montgomery SM, Ekbom A, 2002. 26-27; Bergen HT, 2006. 6; von Kries R et al., 2002. 954, 956.
32 Ong KK, Dunger DB, 2002. 202; International Diabetes Federation website, 2002. e-article.
33 Barker, Winter, et al., 1989. 579; Barker DJ, 1999. 305.
34 Spong CY, 2007. 407; Cnattingius S et al., 1999. 947; Brooks DR et al., 2004. 999.
35 Salihu HM, Wilson RE, 2007. 713, 717.
36 Salihu HM, Wilson RE, 2007. 717-718; Chong DS et al., 2004. 471, 478.
37 FASD: What Everyone Should Know. 1.
38 Griesler PC, Kandel DB, 1998. 297; Baer JS et al., 2003. 377, 383.
39 Fryer SL et al., 2007. e737.
40 Fryer SL et al., 2007. e737.
41 Sokol RJ et al., 2007. 1031, 1035.
42 Eriksson JG et al., 2004. 164, 166; Fasting MH et al., 2008. 2, 5; Goldschmidt L et al., 1996. 769.


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