Introduction: Over the past 20 years the scientific literature has reported important relationships between placental size and augmented risk of cardiovascular disease in the offspring. The foundational paper that led to this idea was published by Barker and colleagues in 1989. They showed an inverse relationship between the mortality of men and women who lived in Hertfordshire, UK, and their weight at birth (Figure 16.1). This report was a landmark discovery; it showed clearly what many developmental biologists had previously noted – that the plastic nature of development underlies the lifelong health of the offspring. But this finding by Barker et al. was more specific. Birth weight was discovered to be a clear, statistically reliable predictor of death from one chronic disease condition. One exciting part of the birth weight story is the detective work from which it arose. Barker's team sought the culprit responsible for high death rates from ischaemic heart disease in the north of England. For them, the geographical map was as powerful as electrophoretic gel is for the molecular biologist. The team noticed that regions in England and Wales with high mortality rates from ischaemic heart disease overlapped perfectly regions with high rates of neonatal death (reviewed by Barker).
ASJC Scopus subject areas