Food and Behaviour Research

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Sir Richard Doll Lecture. Developmental origins of chronic disease

Barker DJ (2012) Public Health.  126(3):185-9. Epub 2012 Feb 10.  

Web URL: View this and related abstracts via PubMed here. Free full text of this article is available online.


Coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer and many other chronic diseases are unnecessary. Their occurrence is not mandated by genes passed down to us through thousands of years of evolution.

Chronic diseases are not the inevitable lot of humankind. They are the result of the changing pattern of human development. We could readily prevent them, had we the will to do so.

Prevention of chronic disease, and an increase in healthy ageing require improvement in the nutrition of girls and young women.

Many babies in the womb in the Western world today are receiving unbalanced and inadequate diets. Many babies in the developing world are malnourished because their mothers are chronically malnourished.

Protecting the nutrition and health of girls and young women should be the cornerstone of public health. Not only will this prevent chronic disease, but it will produce new generations who have better health and well-being through their lives.


It is difficult to overstate the importance of the findings that Professor Barker has so elegantly summarised in this lecture.

As he emphasises, most of the chronic diseases that increasingly afflict people in both developed and developing countries could actually be prevented if women of childbearing age were adequately nourished.

Robust evidence shows that 'nutritional programming' effects (reflecting the mother's diet and nutritional status) permanently shape a child's lifetime health risks. Much of this programming occurs before that child is even born, although the critical time window extends to around the first 1000 days from conception.

The lifelong risks from early malnutrition extend to mental as well as physical health disorders.

The full text of this article is freely available online here