Developmental origins of obesity and the metabolic syndrome: the role of maternal obesity

Front Horm Res. 2008;36:73-84. doi: 10.1159/000115355.


Obesity and its sequelae may prove to be the greatest threat to human lifestyle and health in the developed world this century. The so called obesity epidemic has seen the incidence of obesity and overweight almost double in Western societies and the trend is mirrored in nations that are transitioning to first world economies. There is no doubt that much of the rise in obesity can be attributed to lifestyle factors such as the excess consumption of energy-dense foods and the decline in physical activity. However, the 'fetal origins'hypothesis, first proposed by Barker and colleagues and elaborated by several groups over the past 15 years to be termed the 'Developmental Origins of Adult Health and Disease' (DOHaD), provides an alternative explanation for the rising rates of obesity. The DOHaD hypothesis states that exposure to an unfavourable environment during development (either in utero or in the early postnatal period) programmes changes in fetal or neonatal development such that the individual is then at greater risk of developing adulthood disease. This chapter discusses the effects of maternal obesity on fetal development and birth outcomes as well as the manner in which DOHaD may contribute to the obesity epidemic.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / etiology
  • Diabetes, Gestational
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / etiology*
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications*
  • Pregnancy Outcome


  • Dietary Fats