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Developmental origins of non-communicable disease: Implications for research and public health

Robert Barouki1*, Peter D Gluckman2, Philippe Grandjean34, Mark Hanson5 and Jerrold J Heindel6

Author Affiliations

1 INSERM UMR-S 747, Université Paris Descartes, Paris, 06, 75270, France

2 University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, 01142, New Zealand

3 Environmental Medicine, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, 5000, Denmark

4 Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, 02215, USA

5 University of Southampton, Mailpoint 887, Southampton General Hospital, Southampton, SO16 6YD, UK

6 National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, P O Box 12233, Research Triangle Park, Durham, NC, 27709, USA

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Environmental Health 2012, 11:42  doi:10.1186/1476-069X-11-42

Published: 20 June 2012


This White Paper highlights the developmental period as a plastic phase, which allows the organism to adapt to changes in the environment to maintain or improve reproductive capability in part through sustained health. Plasticity is more prominent prenatally and during early postnatal life, i.e., during the time of cell differentiation and specific tissue formation. These developmental periods are highly sensitive to environmental factors, such as nutrients, environmental chemicals, drugs, infections and other stressors. Nutrient and toxicant effects share many of the same characteristics and reflect two sides of the same coin. In both cases, alterations in physiological functions can be induced and may lead to the development of non-communicable conditions. Many of the major diseases – and dysfunctions – that have increased substantially in prevalence over the last 40 years seem to be related in part to developmental factors associated with either nutritional imbalance or exposures to environmental chemicals. The Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) concept provides significant insight into new strategies for research and disease prevention and is sufficiently robust and repeatable across species, including humans, to require a policy and public health response. This White Paper therefore concludes that, as early development (in utero and during the first years of postnatal life) is particularly sensitive to developmental disruption by nutritional factors or environmental chemical exposures, with potentially adverse consequences for health later in life, both research and disease prevention strategies should focus more on these vulnerable life stages.

Environmental exposure; Fetal development; Non-communicable disease; Nutritional requirements; Prenatal exposure delayed effects