Low birth weight, thinness and short body length at birth are now known to be associated with increased rates of cardiovascular disease and non-insulin dependent diabetes in adult life. The fetal origins hypothesis proposes that these diseases originate through adaptations which the fetus makes when it is undernourished. These adaptations may be cardiovascular, metabolic or endocrine. They permanently change the structure and function of the body. Prevention of the diseases may depend on prevention of imbalances in fetal growth or imbalances between pre- and post-natal growth, or imbalances in nutrient supply to the fetus.