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The Endowment for Human Development
The Endowment for Human Development
Improving lifelong health one pregnancy at a time.
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When Health Begins: What You Need to Know


"The Biggest Story in Human Health"

A steady stream of new research reveals that during pregnancy—and sometimes long before pregnancy—a woman's health, nutrition, and lifestyle choices significantly influence the health and growth of her baby before birth, her baby's birth weight and size, and whether her baby is born premature or full-term.

Even more surprising is that these same prenatal factors also help shape her child's lifelong health and cognitive ability.1 They also help determine her child's risk of developing diseases such as heart disease,2 high blood pressure,3 and diabetes,4 and learning and behavioral disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)5 and conduct disorder.6

This research, twenty plus years in the making, is helping to define how a woman's health before and during pregnancy may impact her child's entire life. It is also revealing how eating properly and avoiding harmful substances may sharply reduce the risk of certain diseases and disabilities, enhance human health and achievement, and save lives.

To briefly cite a specific example, researchers recently reported that women receiving folic acid supplements for at least one year before conception enjoyed a 70% reduction in severe prematurity and a 50% reduction in moderately severe prematurity.7 The complications that accompany premature birth can be significant.8 In fact, the societal cost to treat prematurity in the United States is estimated at $26.2 billion per year.9 The possibility of sharply reducing the incidence of a major medical complication like premature birth with an inexpensive daily supplement highlights the power of prevention.

Dr. Peter Nathanielsz, a prominent researcher in this area, calls the amazing link between prenatal health and lifelong health "the biggest story in human health" and, in no uncertain terms states, "we need to wake up."10

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1 Case A, Paxson C, 2006. 6.
2 Coming Soon, 2010. 100.
3 Coming Soon, 2010. 100.
4Hundreds of articles in the medical literature link preconception and prenatal health to lifelong health. These historic discoveries were first made by epidemiologist David J. P. Barker, M.D., Ph.D., and his team of researchers at Southampton University in England. This research strongly supports the idea that our lifelong risk of developing various maladies is determined or "programmed," in part, by the quality of living conditions inside the womb.
5 Van den Bergh BR, Marcoen A, 2004. 1092.
6 Coming Soon, 2010. 100.
7 Gordon S, 2008. 1; Bukowski R et al., 2009. 6.
8 Spong CY, 2007. 405.
9 Premature births. 2007. CDC website. e-article.
10 McKeown LA, 2001. 1.


McKeown LA. 2001. Tracking disease back to the womb. WebMD Website. WebMD.
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Spong CY. 2007. Prediction and prevention of recurrent spontaneous preterm birth. Obstet Gynecol. Aug;110(2 Pt 1):405-15.
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Van den Bergh BR, Marcoen A. 2004. High antenatal maternal anxiety is related to ADHD symptoms, externalizing problems, and anxiety in 8- and 9-year-olds. Child Dev. Jul-Aug;75(4):1085-97.
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Gordon S. 2008. Folic Acid May Help Prevent Premature Birth. Medicinenet Website. Medicinenet.
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Case A, Paxson C. Stature and Status: Height, Ability, and Labor Market Outcomes. National Bureau of Economic Research. NBER Working Paper No. 12466.
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Premature births. 2007. 2007. Premature births. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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Bukowski R, Malone FD, Porter FT, Nyberg DA, Comstock CH, Hankins GD, Eddleman K, Gross SJ, Dugoff L, Craigo SD, Timor-Tritsch IE, Carr SR, Wolfe HM, D'Alton ME. 2009. Preconceptional folate supplementation and the risk of spontaneous preterm birth: a cohort study. PLoS Med. May 5;6(5):e1000061.
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Coming Soon. 2010. Coming Soon.
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