Epidemiological, clinical, and experimental observations have led to the hypothesis that the risk of developing chronic diseases in adulthood is influenced not only by genetic and adult lifestyle factors, but also by environmental factors during early life. Low birth weight, a marker of intrauterine stress, has been linked to predisposition to cardiovascular disease (CVD) and diabetes. The compelling animal evidence and significant human data to support this conclusion are reviewed. Specifically, the review discusses the role of maternal nutrition before and during pregnancy, placental insufficiencies and epigenetic changes in the increased predisposition to diabetes and CVD in adult life. The impact of low birth weight and catch-up growth as they pertain to risk of disease in adult life is also discussed. In addition, adult disease risk in the overnourished fetus is also mentioned. Reference is made to some of the mechanisms of the induction of diabetes and CVD phenotype. It is proposed that fetal nutrition, growth and development through efficient maternal nutrition before and during pregnancy could constitute the basis for nutritional strategies for the primary prevention of diabetes and CVD.