Developmental origins of health inequality: maternal influences, growth in early life, reproduction, and health in adulthood

Project leader

Funding source

Forte - Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare

Project Details

Start date: 01/01/2008
End date: 31/12/2010
Funding: 3000000 SEK


In spite of long term investments into reduction of differences in health between social groups in Sweden, substantial health inequalities persist in Sweden today. In 2004, our research group initiated a multigenerational study on health inequalities (The Uppsala Birth Cohort Multigenerational Study) that generated evidence on persisting influences of grandparental and parental social characteristics on growth, cognition, health outcomes and reproductive success in the offspring and subsequent generations. It is, however, yet largely unclear what biological processes mediate the above associations. In the current project, we propose to address the contribution of 'developmental origins of disease' phenomenon to creating and maintaining social inequalities in health.

Many environmental processes influencing the propensity to disease in adulthood operate during periconceptual, foetal and infant phases of life. The 'developmental origins of disease' phenomenon (Bateson et al., Nature 2004) suggests that a mismatch between fetal expectation of its postnatal environment and actual postnatal environment contributes to later adult disease risk and that the processes whereby environmental influences act during early development to shape disease risk in later life can have effects beyond a single generation. This novel concept has major biological, medical, and social implications that are yet to be fully acknowledged.

Our aim is to investigate how the socio-economic environment during different stages of the life course of individuals in one generation, and across the life-courses of their parents and grandparents, interacts with early (pre- and postnatal) life growth and development to determine disease risk in adult life and how social inequalities in health are reproduced into each new generation. Our ultimate aim is to uncover opportunities for designing targeted prevention and health promotion strategies conditional on individual and family histories.

Last updated on 2017-29-03 at 17:13