Evolutionary perspectives on the fetal origins hypothesis



The fetal origins hypothesis, or Barker hypothesis, is both stimulating and challenging for evolutionary human biologists. While evidence of a correlation between conditions around the time of birth and later health outcomes has been presented before, the more recent evidence of a connection between fetal growth and chronic disease risk later in life has attracted considerable attention among epidemiologists and human biologists. Several themes that are fundamental to human biology emerge from an engagement with the fetal origins hypothesis. Among them are the tension between concepts of pathology, constraint, and adaptation; the importance of a life history perspective that embraces the notion of trade-offs; the question of environmental predictability; and the mechanisms of energy mobilization and allocation. Bringing the insights of evolutionary biology to bear on the fetal origins hypothesis illustrates the value of the field now known as evolutionary medicine. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 17:113–118, 2005. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.