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Keywords:

  • Cardiovascular disease;
  • epigenetic;
  • fetal growth;
  • maternal nutrition;
  • respiratory disease

Clinical and epidemiological studies have established that people who were small at birth and had poor infant growth have an increased risk of adult cardiovascular and respiratory disease, particularly if their restricted early growth is followed by accelerated childhood weight gain. This relationship extends across the normal range of infant size in a graded manner. The ‘mismatch hypothesis’ proposes that ill health in later life originates through developmental plastic responses made by the fetus and infant; these responses increase the risk of adult disease if the environment in childhood and adult life differs from that predicted during early development.