Fetal undernutrition followed by abundant food after birth might be a recipe for disaster — it is linked to increased risk of obesity and cardiometabolic diseases later in life. The Dutch famine birth cohort study is a tragic “natural experiment” that exemplified this phenomenon. It observed that people born to mothers who experienced a transient period of severe famine during pregnancy, followed by a return to normal diet postnatally, had an increased risk of obesity and cardiometabolic diseases.
This mismatch between a poor fetal nutritional environment and a rich postnatal nutritional environment might cause fetal adaptive responses to become maladaptive, leading to greater cardiometabolic risk in adulthood. This is known as the developmental mismatch hypothesis.
However, is developmental mismatch still a pertinent health issue affecting cardiometabolic risk in contemporary well-nourished populations, who are not facing famine or drastic environmental stresses? In these populations, fetal undernutrition is more likely to result from uteroplacental insufficiency than maternal malnutrition.
Yuxian Ma, Olesya Ajnakina, Andrew Steptoe and Dorina Cadar
Dementia is a major health challenge that could steal away the opportunity for successful ageing of the population. A priority is to identify lifestyle factors that may reduce the risk of dementia, or even prevent it. The modifiable risk factors for vascular diseases — such as smoking, excessive alcohol intake, lack of physical activity, low intake of antioxidants and high intake of saturated fats — are receiving greater attention in this area because of their association with cognitive impairment and dementia in older people.
Obesity, which is linked to lifestyle behaviours, is an important modifiable risk factor. In our recent study carried out at the UCL Department of Behavioural Science and Health, we found that being overweight or obese was associated with a greater risk of developing dementia.
Childhood overweight and obesity are a global public health problem. In high-income countries, obesity follows socioeconomic patterns, in that people with a lower socioeconomic position are more likely to be overweight or obese than those with a higher socioeconomic position. Poor diet is a key risk factor for excess weight gain. It is also a risk factor that we can do something about.
Good dietary patterns are associated with improved health and well-being but many people find it difficult to change their eating habits. In this study we tested the idea that a “personalised nutrition” approach would be better in helping people improve their diets.
Why diet matters Poor dietary patterns lead to poor health and increased risk of obesity and a wide range of common diseases including cardiovascular disease, several cancers and type 2 diabetes. Despite knowing that we should improve our diets by eating more vegetables and fruit, cutting down on fatty foods and going easy on sugary drinks and confectionary, many people find it difficult to make sustained improvements in their dietary choices. Knowing what we should do is not enough. We need interventions which help us to make, and to keep on making, appropriate changes in what we eat.