Food and Behaviour Research

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16 Aug 2011 - BBC Radio 4 - The First 1000 Days: A Legacy for Life - Part 1: In the womb

Presented by Dr Mark Porter (Produced by Erika Wright)

Part 1: In the Womb

Imagine if your health as an adult is partly determined by the nutrition and environment you were exposed to in the first 1000 days of life. Or even further back; that the lifestyle of your grandparents during their children's first 1000 days, has programmed your adult health. A strong body of scientific evidence supports this explosive idea, and is gradually turning medical thinking on its head. To understand the cause of chronic adult disease, including ageing, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity and lung problems we need to look much further back than adult lifestyle - but to the first 1000 days.

In this groundbreaking three part series Dr Mark Porter talks to the scientists who now believe that this 'lifecourse' approach, will find the cause of many adult diseases. "Chronic disease is going up in leaps and bounds, this is not a genetic change" says Kent Thornburg, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine in Oregon, America "it's because the environment in the womb is getting worse. We know now that the first 1000 days of life is the most sensitive period for determining lifelong health'.

But it's not just down to mothers or grandmothers, there is growing evidence that diet and lifestyle along the paternal line matters too. 'You are what your dad ate,' argues Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith of Cambridge University.

"Growth has a pattern," continues Alan Jackson, Professor of Nutrition at Southampton University "everything has a time and a place and if that gets interrupted then you can catch up, but there are consequences".

So where does that leave us as adults? Good diet and lifestyle is very important, but scientists know that some individuals are more vulnerable to disease than others, and that's not just down to genetics. "All diseases may be expressions of key developments in the womb" explains Professor David Barker, "That does not mean you are doomed, it means you are vulnerable. Understanding that challenges the way medicine is structured".

Mark Porter sets out to investigate his own birth history and meets families to debate these overwhelming ideas. He talks to world leading scientists about how this approach to adult disease can help make us healthier and learns top tips for the first 1000 days.