iPlayer Radio What's New?
Image for In the Womb

Listen now 30 mins

Listen in pop-out player

In the Womb

Duration:
30 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 16 August 2011

The First 1000 Days: A Legacy for Life

Part 1: In the Womb
Part 2: Infancy
Part 3: Future Generations

Imagine if your health as an adult is partly determined by the nutrition and environment you were exposed to in the first 1000days of life. Or even further back; that the lifestyle of your grandparents during their children's first 1000 days, has programmed your adult health. A strong body of scientific evidence supports this explosive idea, and is gradually turning medical thinking on its head. To understand the cause of chronic adult disease, including ageing, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity and lung problems we need to look much further back than adult lifestyle - but to the first 1000 days.

In this groundbreaking three part series Dr Mark Porter talks to the scientists who now believe that this 'lifecourse' approach, will find the cause of many adult diseases. "Chronic disease is going up in leaps and bounds, this is not a genetic change" says Kent Thornburg, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine in Oregon, America "it's because the environment in the womb is getting worse. We know now that the first 1000 days of life is the most sensitive period for determining lifelong health'.

But it's not just down to mothers or grandmothers, there is growing evidence that diet and lifestyle along the paternal line matters too. 'You are what your dad ate,' argues Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith of Cambridge University.

"Growth has a pattern," continues Alan Jackson, Professor of Nutrition at Southampton University "everything has a time and a place and if that gets interrupted then you can catch up, but there are consequences".

So where does that leave us as adults? Good diet and lifestyle is very important, but scientists know that some individuals are more vulnerable to disease than others, and that's not just down to genetics. "All diseases may be expressions of key developments in the womb" explains Professor David Barker, "That does not mean you are doomed, it means you are vulnerable. Understanding that challenges the way medicine is structured".

Mark Porter sets out to investigate his own birth history and meets families to debate these overwhelming ideas. He talks to world leading scientists about how this approach to adult disease can help make us healthier and learns top tips for the first 1000 days.

  • Part 1: A Window on the Womb

    Imagine if your health as an adult is partly determined by the nutrition and environment you were exposed to during a critical period of development - the first 1000 days of life. A strong body of scientific evidence supports this explosive idea, and is gradually turning medical thinking on its head. To understand the cause of chronic adult disease, including ageing, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity and lung problems we need to look much further back than adult lifestyle – but to the first 1000 days.

    Dr Mark Porter investigates this influential idea and meets the world experts leading this burgeoning field of research. He talks to David Barker, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Southampton and the man behind the Barker Theory. This links the risk of developing illnesses in adult life to poor nutrition in the womb – typically evident when a baby is born underweight. Low birth weight is associated with a number of long term health problems in adults, ranging from osteoporosis to stroke. Chronic disease may be expressions of key developments in the womb. “That does not mean you are doomed, it means you are vulnerable” explains Professor David Barker.

    Researchers have studied the Dutch Famine or ‘Hunger Winter’ at the end of the Second World War where babies developing in the womb were exposed to severe conditions. Nearly seventy years later, Tessa Roseboom, a researcher at the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam, has found long term health risks for Dutch adults who were in the womb during that difficult winter.

    But it’s not just underweight babies that may be at risk – being too heavy has its problems too, and is an increasingly common challenge in the UK. As Professor Lucilla Poston - Head of Women’s Health at Kings College London – explains, overweight mothers tend to have big babies and more pregnant women are overweight. These babies are potentially at risk for negative health outcomes in later life.

    The First Thousand Days: A Legacy for Life calls for a new approach to understanding chronic disease. In recognising the long term impact of events during these early critical phases of development, the medical profession could dramatically change its approach to disease prevention.

Broadcasts

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.