Early Developmental conditions and reproductive success in humans: Downstream effects of prenatal famine, birthweight, and timing of birth



Growth, survival, and breeding success of individuals in populations of wild mammals are influenced by the climatic and nutritional conditions that individuals experience during their early development. Recent findings have shown that early conditions also have consequences for subsequent survival and reproductive performance in humans. Environmental conditions which affect early development of individuals, such as the quality and quantity of nutrition received in utero and infancy, predict the onset of many chronic diseases in adulthood, affect longevity and may also influence a range of measures of reproductive performance in both food-limited and contemporary Western human populations. These associations are proposed to result from foetal programming, where a stimulus or insult during a critical period early in life may permanently affect body structure, physiology, and metabolism. Here I review studies showing how birthweight, season of birth, or exposure to prenatal starvation affect different aspects of an individual's subsequent reproductive success in humans and the growth, survival, and reproductive performance of the offspring produced. I show that early maternal and environmental conditions can have a large impact on human reproductive strategies and fitness that can span across generations. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 15:370–379, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.