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Annu Rev Nutr. 2001;21:73-95.

The "fetal origins" hypothesis: challenges and opportunities for maternal and child nutrition.

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Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14583, USA.


The "fetal origins" hypothesis postulates that conditions, most likely nutritional, "program" the fetus for the development of chronic diseases in adulthood. Associations between the newborn's size at birth and various determinants or consequences of chronic diseases have been identified in many, but not all, of the available studies. It remains to be established whether these associations are causal. Remarkably little information is available on the specific role of maternal nutritional status. The role of birth weight remains difficult to interpret except as a proxy for events in intrauterine life. Unfortunately, birth weight does not make an important contribution to the population attributable risk of cardiovascular disease; lifestyle factors during adulthood make much greater contributions. Data from experimental species suggest possible mechanisms for the origin of chronic disease early in life. It is too soon to use this research as a basis for new interventions directed at pregnant women for the purpose of reducing chronic disease in their offspring.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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