Fetal programming hypothesis and David Barker

David Barker, who died recently made an important observation . He challenged the idea that diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer were the result of poor genes and unhealthy adult life style. He proposed that their origin lay in early life, from the nourishment a baby in the womb and its exposure to infection after birth. This permanently programmes the body’s structure and metabolism, and determines susceptibility to chronic disease later in life. He emphasised the need for good health and nutrition in girls, pregnant women and infants.

Is hypothesis was based on meticulous statistics. He showed that areas of England and Wales with the highest infant mortality in 1910 had the highest burden of cardiovascular disease in the 1970s.

He also used the meticulous records recorded by the midwife teams in Hertfordshire and showed that people of low birth and infant weight had an increased incidence of cardiovascular and diabetes in middle age.

David Barker was such a good scientist. Unlike many proponents of new ideas, he observed and supported his work with detailed facts and statistics.

In fairness the whole picture is decent genes, healthy development in the womb to a healthy mother, good nourishment throughout life, good weight control and luck.

David Barker Obituary BMJ 26th October  volume 347 page 26

Back to top