Developmental Origins of Diseases

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Developmental Origins of Chronic Diseases

Influences that occur during early life including preconception, fetal life or birth exert a long-term impact on an individual’s health across their lifespan. Research into how chronic disease has its origins during development was first initiated by Dr. David Barker who noted that low birth weight increased the risk for coronary heart disease in later life. Since Dr. Barker’s first observation numerous other studies have linked low birth weight with a multitude of chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes and obesity, hypertension, stroke, osteoporosis, educational delays, and cancer. The Developmental Origins of Health and Disease is a very active area of research that is dedicated to investigating how fetal exposure to adverse influences during early life can have a long-term impact on the later health and disease of an individual. Low birth weight due to slow fetal growth or preterm birth, high birth weight in pregnancies complicated by obesity, fetal exposure to preeclampsia or maternal diabetes, teenage pregnancy or birth to a mother over 40, lack of proper prenatal care and nutrition, parental smoking or maternal alcohol abuse are all factors that can exert or “program” increased risk for chronic disease in an individual across their lifespan.

Current research at UMMC is investigating how low birth weight leads to increased risk for obesity, cardiovascular and renal disease, type 2 diabetes, accelerated reproductive aging, and osteoporosis in later life. Low birth weight can result from factors that slow fetal growth such as poor prenatal care, teenage pregnancy, parental smoking, preeclampsia, or preterm birth. According to the National Center for Health Statistics Mississippi has the highest percentage of low birth weight babies in the United States, 16.9% of all babies in Mississippi are born preterm, and although the teen pregnancy rate has dropped in Mississippi, Mississippi has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the United States at 53.1 per 1000 teens ages 15-19. Research at UMMC is also investigating how maternal obesity programs increased heart and kidney disease in the offspring. The obesity rate in Mississippi is the highest in the nation with greater than 35% of our population considered obese. Thus, understanding how adverse influences during fetal life programs chronic disease will not only reduce health care costs within our state, but will also decrease health risks in individuals compromised by fetal exposure to adverse influences during fetal life.

Thus, it is well established that chronic (non-communicable) disease has its origins in early life. The list of disorders and chronic diseases that are influenced by adverse exposures during development may surprise you and include the following:

Cardiovascular Disease


Kidney Disease

High CholesterolObesity

Pre-term and Extreme Pre-term Birth

Type 2 DiabetesOsteoporosis

Early or Premature Menopause


Low Birth Weight Babies

High Birth Weight Babies