Support mothers to curb the global rise in chronic diseases

By Carol Clark | eScienceCommons | Dec. 17, 2013

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Rather than primarily focusing on people’s genes, or on their diets and lifestyles in adulthood, “we need a developmental approach to public health” that better supports girls and young women, the researchers write.

After decades of studies showing that the chances of a person having a chronic disease in later life can be determined when they are in the womb, it is time to take stronger action, say researchers from Emory University and the University of Southampton in the current issue of Nature.

Rather than primarily focusing on people’s genes, or on their diets and lifestyles in adulthood, “we need a developmental approach to public health” that better supports girls and young women, they write.

The lead author of the commentary article is the late David Barker. He was a visiting professor at Emory’s Center for the Study of Human Health, a clinical epidemiologist at the University of Southampton in the UK, and a professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Oregon Health and Science University.

Barker, who co-taught undergraduate courses at Emory, including one on predicting lifespan health, and served as an adviser to graduate students, was widely considered to be one of the most important clinical epidemiologists of our time. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage last August at 75, after finishing the first draft of the Nature commentary. The article summarizes his life’s work, while also calling for action.

Barker essentially “invented” a new field of medicine, now known as Development Origins of Health and Disease, says Michelle Lampl, a co-author of the Nature article and director of Emory’s Center for the Study of Human Health.

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