Environmental mismatch and obesity in humans: The Jerusalem Perinatal Family Follow-Up Study

Int J Obes (Lond). 2021 Jul;45(7):1404-1417. doi: 10.1038/s41366-021-00802-9. Epub 2021 Mar 24.


Background: According to the hypothesis of Gluckman and Hanson, mismatch between the developmental and postdevelopmental environments may lead to detrimental health impacts such as obesity. While several animal studies support the mismatch theory, there is a scarcity of evidence from human-based studies.

Objectives: Our study aims to examine whether a mismatch between the developmental and young-adult environments affect obesity in young adults of the Jerusalem Perinatal Family Follow-Up Study.

Methods: Data from The Jerusalem Perinatal Family Follow-Up Study birth cohort was used to characterize early and late environments using offspring and parental sociodemographic and lifestyle information at birth, age 32 (n = 1140) and 42 (n = 404). Scores characterizing the early and late environments were constructed using factor analysis. To assess associations of mismatch with obesity, regression models were fitted using the first factor of each environment and adiposity measures at age 32 and 42.

Results: Having a stable non-beneficial environment at birth and young-adulthood was most strongly associated with increased adiposity, while a stable beneficial environment was most favorable. The transition from a beneficial environment at birth to a less beneficial environment at young-adulthood was associated with higher obesity measures, including higher BMI (β = 0.979; 95% CI: 0.029, 1.929), waist circumference (β = 2.729; 95% CI: 0.317, 5.140) and waist-hip ratio (β = 0.017; 95% CI: 0.004, 0.029) compared with those experiencing a beneficial environment at both time points. Transition from a less beneficial environment at birth to a beneficial environment at adulthood was also associated with higher obesity measurements (BMI -β = 1.116; 95% CI: 0.085, 2.148; waist circumference -β = 2.736; 95% CI: 0.215, 5.256).

Conclusions: This study provides some support for the mismatch hypothesis. While there is indication that an accumulation of the effects of the non-beneficial environment has the strongest detrimental impact on obesity outcomes, our results also indicate that a mismatch between the developmental and later environments may result in maladaptation of the individual leading to obesity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biological Evolution
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Israel
  • Male
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Parents
  • Social Environment*