Developmental Origins of Health and Disease - from a small body size at birth to epigenetics

Ann Med. 2016 Sep;48(6):456-467. doi: 10.1080/07853890.2016.1193786. Epub 2016 Jun 8.


The Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) hypothesis proposes that several non-communicable diseases have their origins in prenatal life and in early childhood. This is believed to work through programming, an insult, taking place at a sensitive period of development, may have lifelong consequences, increasing and programming disease risk later in life. The Helsinki Birth Cohort Study (HBCS) has been focusing upon the importance of factors active during periods in early life and their influence on later health in 20,431 people born 1924-44. This review will focus upon findings from the HBCS over the past 20 years. Early growth patterns associated with coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other health outcomes are described. The long-term health impact of maternal adiposity is also discussed. Potential underlying mechanisms explaining the associations are discussed including epigenetic factors. Key messages Several non-communicable diseases - including coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes - have their origins in early life. Early life programming during sensitive periods of development may permanently program future health and disease risk. Optimizing the health and lifestyle of women of reproductive age will have positive health consequences for their offspring.

Keywords: Developmental Origins of Health and Disease; Helsinki Birth Cohort Study (HBCS); childhood growth; fetal growth; programming.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Birth Weight
  • Body Size
  • Coronary Disease / epidemiology*
  • Coronary Disease / genetics
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / genetics
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Female
  • Finland
  • Growth Disorders / complications
  • Growth Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Growth Disorders / genetics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Risk Factors