The Demographic and Epidemiological Context
When is a person’s lifespan determined? At conception through genes, in-utero, during childhood and adolescence, or at adult ages through environmental factors? Different opinions prevailed at different times in the course of the 20th century and are still hotly debated. Infancy and childhood were seen as the critical phase in the first thirty years of the twentieth century. Since then the emphasis has been more on lifestyle factors and, thus, adult ages. Since the 1970s, however, new evidence has been emerging that chronic disease is rooted in infancy and childhood. An influential theory developed in the course of the last decade traces the causes of heart disease and diabetes back to the womb. The theory claims that the mother’s nutrition and any infectious diseases she might have had during pregnancy are responsible for an increased susceptibility of the child to heart disease and diabetes once it reaches adult ages. The interpretation of this recent research has been challenged, however. Deprivation in-utero and during childhood may simply be the starting point of deprivation throughout life. The increased susceptibility later in life may thus be the result of the life-long accumulation of detrimental effects.
KeywordsBirth Weight Infant Mortality Birth Cohort Cohort Effect Adult Mortality
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