Dr. David Barker first popularized the concept of fetal origins of adult disease (FOAD). Since its inception, FOAD has received considerable attention. The FOAD hypothesis holds that events during early development have a profound impact on one's risk for development of future adult disease. Low birth weight, a surrogate marker of poor fetal growth and nutrition, is linked to coronary artery disease, hypertension, obesity, and insulin resistance. Clues originally arose from large 20th century, European birth registries. Today, large, diverse human cohorts and various animal models have extensively replicated these original observations. This review focuses on the pathogenesis related to FOAD and examines Dr. David Barker's landmark studies, along with additional human and animal model data. Implications of the FOAD extend beyond the low birth weight population and include babies exposed to stress, both nutritional and nonnutritional, during different critical periods of development, which ultimately result in a disease state. By understanding FOAD, health care professionals and policy makers will make this issue a high health care priority and implement preventive measures and treatment for those at higher risk for chronic diseases.
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