Fatal beginnings

women who eat poorly before and during pregnancy have babies who grow up with a tendency to heart disease and stroke, according to David Barker and his colleagues at the Medical Research Council's Environmental Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, uk. Barker observes that the nutritional status of the mother during pregnancy is an addition to the long list of causes for heart diseases (The Lancet, Vol 348, No 9037).

The group looked at the medical records of 13,249 men born in the uk between 1907 and 1930. They found that small size at birth was correlated to heart disease and stroke. Also, women with deformed pelvis had babies with higher stroke rate.

Barker and his colleagues conclude: "Stroke may originate due to poor nutrition during mother's childhood, which deforms her bony pelvis and impairs the ability to sustain the growth of the placenta and foetus during late pregnancy. Coronary disease, on the other hand, seems to originate in adaptations made by the foetus to inadequate delivery of nutrients when it occurs for reasons other than failure of placental growth.'

Barker further studied 517 people born between 1934 and 1954 in a mission hospital in Mysore, India. A significantly higher (11 per cent) prevalence of heart disease was found in people whose birth weights were 2.5 kg or less as compared to those who were heavier than 3.1 kg (three per cent).

Barker's work is also unravelling certain familiar but unclear observations on the health of people vis-a-vis their lifestyle. This addresses questions such as how people who eat right, exercise, abstain from drink and smoking get struck by heart disease while those who do all the wrong things live well into their 90s.

Barker concludes that "factors after birth have much less of an influ ence on coronary disease than previously thought, although adult lifestyle does add to the effects of intrauterine life'.

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