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Public Health. 2012 Mar;126(3):185-189. doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2011.11.014. Epub 2012 Feb 10.

Sir Richard Doll Lecture. Developmental origins of chronic disease.

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Medical School, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK; Heart Research Center, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR, USA. Electronic address:


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.

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