The thrifty phenotype hypothesis revisited

Diabetologia. 2012 Aug;55(8):2085-8. doi: 10.1007/s00125-012-2589-y. Epub 2012 May 30.


Twenty years ago, Hales and Barker along with their co-workers published some of their pioneering papers proposing the 'thrifty phenotype hypothesis' in Diabetologia (4;35:595-601 and 3;36:62-67). Their postulate that fetal programming could represent an important player in the origin of type 2 diabetes, the metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease (CVD) was met with great scepticism.More recently, their observations have been confirmed and expanded in many epidemiological and animal experimental studies, and human integrative physiological studies have provided insights into some of the underlying molecular mechanisms. Type 2 diabetes is a multiple-organ disease, and developmental programming, with its idea of organ plasticity, is a plausible hypothesis for a common basis for the widespread organ dysfunctions in type 2 diabetes and the metabolic syndrome. Only two among the 45 known type 2 diabetes susceptibility genes are associated with low birthweight, indicating that the association between low birthweight and type 2 diabetes is mainly non-genetic. Prevention programmes targeting adult lifestyle factors seems unable to stop the global propagation of type 2 diabetes, and intensive glucose control is inadequate to reduce the excess CVD mortality in type 2 diabetic patients. Today, the thrifty phenotype hypothesis has been established as a promising conceptual framework for a more sustainable intergenerational prevention of type 2 diabetes.

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / genetics*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / genetics*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / prevention & control
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Female
  • Fetal Development / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance / genetics*
  • Male
  • Metabolic Syndrome / genetics*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / prevention & control
  • Phenotype*
  • Pregnancy