Early nutrition patterns and diseases of adulthood: a plausible link?

Eur J Intern Med. 2013 Jan;24(1):5-10. doi: 10.1016/j.ejim.2012.08.011. Epub 2012 Sep 13.


In the last decades several studies tested the hypothesis that at early development stages certain foods or nutrients, in specific amounts, fed during limited sensitive periods, may determine an endocrine metabolic asset leading to clinical alterations that take place decades later (early nutritional programming of long term health). Evidence is mounting for programming effects of infant feeding. Observational studies indicate that breast feeding, relative to formula feeding, reduces the risk for obesity at school age by about 20% even after adjustment for biological and sociodemographic confounders. Moreover, breastfeeding is constantly associated with increased neurodevelopmental scores up to early adulthood, while its outcome in terms of delayed decay of brain function is still unknown. Besides the environment surrounding breastfeeding, specific nutrients within human milk may play a direct role. With the introduction of solids the major changes in diet are represented by the sudden decrease of fat intake from 50 to 30% of total energy. A protein excess, commonly found throughout all European Countries, has been associated to a higher risk of adiposity in early childhood, as confirmed by first reports from a large European trial. The amount of fat does not seem to be associated with later adiposity, while its quality may affect blood lipoproteins, blood pressure and neurodevelopmental performance. Early intake of dietary fibers might also have beneficial effects. Epidemiologic data show that episodes of rapid growth (growth acceleration hypothesis), whichever the dietary habits, are associated with later unfavorable health conditions and should be prevented.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breast Feeding
  • Dietary Fats
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Growth
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Formula
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Infant, Newborn


  • Dietary Fats
  • Dietary Proteins