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The Endowment for Human Development
The Endowment for Human Development
Improving lifelong health one pregnancy at a time.
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When Health Begins: What You Need to Know


Maintaining Perspective

It is important to remember that many of the links between prenatal and lifelong health require additional research to confirm research findings and to further delineate the risks involved.

Proving Causality

Proving cause and effect relationships in medicine is always difficult. For example, despite overwhelming evidence that tobacco causes human disease, there are still those who dispute this evidence. In the case of fetal programming, it is virtually impossible to prove definitive causal relationships when discussing events during pregnancy that may affect health 20 or 30 or 50 years later.

But while current research does not prove causality and despite some disagreement among experts about the nuances of fetal programming theory, the vast majority of studies provide clear and convincing evidence that preconception health and prenatal health play a vitally important role in every child's development.

Hope for the Future

It is important to keep in mind that, although these prenatal factors increase the risk of certain complications, they in no way guarantee that any complication will occur. Anyone who has experienced a less-than-ideal pregnancy should not panic or lose hope. Even if a problem develops, most are treatable and many have other risk factors that can be modified to minimize risk. The good news is that ways to prevent or minimize long-term consequences have already been discovered.1

Nevertheless, given the many associations between prenatal events and lifelong health that have been reported worldwide, it is imperative to do all we can to improve women's nutrition and health starting long before pregnancy and continuing throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding and beyond. Improving nutrition during infancy is also vitally important.

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1 Eriksson JG et al., 2004. 164-167.


Eriksson JG, Yliharsila H, Forsen T, Osmond C, Barker DJ. 2004. Exercise protects against glucose intolerance in individuals with a small body size at birth. Prev Med. Jul;39(1):164-7.
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