Life expectancy has been examined from a variety of perspectives in recent history. Epidemiology is one perspective which examines causes of morbidity and mortality at the population level. Over the past few 100 years there have been dramatic shifts in the major causes of death and expected life length. This change has suffered from inconsistency across time and space with vast inequalities observed between population groups. In current focus is the challenge of rising non-communicable diseases (NCD), such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes mellitus. In the search to discover methods to combat the rising incidence of these diseases, a number of new theories on the development of morbidity have arisen. A pertinent example is the hypothesis published by David Barker in 1995 which postulates the prenatal and early developmental origin of adult onset disease, and highlights the importance of the maternal environment. This theory has been subject to criticism however it has gradually gained acceptance. In addition, the relatively new field of epigenetics is contributing evidence in support of the theory. This review aims to explore the implication and limitations of the developmental origin hypothesis, via an historical perspective, in order to enhance understanding of the increasing incidence of NCDs, and facilitate an improvement in planning public health policy.
- Development origin hypothesis
- Early life origins of disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 diabetes