This review focuses on genetic and environmental influences that result in long term alterations in lung structure and function. Environmental factors operating during fetal and early postnatal life can have persistent effects on lung development and so influence lung function and respiratory health throughout life. Common factors affecting the quality of the intrauterine environment that can alter lung development include fetal nutrient and oxygen availability leading to intrauterine growth restriction, fetal intrathoracic space, intrauterine infection or inflammation, maternal tobacco smoking and other drug exposures. Similarly, factors that operate during early postnatal life, such as mechanical ventilation and high FiO(2) in the case of preterm birth, undernutrition, exposure to tobacco smoke and respiratory infections, can all lead to persistent alterations in lung structure and function. Greater awareness of the many prenatal and early postnatal factors that can alter lung development will help to improve lung development and hence respiratory health throughout life.