Obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes mellitus are now prevalent among adults living in developing countries; these chronic diseases affect socioeconomically disadvantaged adults living in impoverished families with under-nourished children. This review summarizes data from Brazil - a developing country undergoing the nutrition transition - suggesting an association between childhood undernutrition and obesity and chronic degenerative disease. Potential mechanisms for the association include longterm effects of childhood undernutrition on energy expenditure, fat oxidation, regulation of food intake, susceptibility to the effects of high-fat diets, and altered insulin sensitivity. The combination of childhood undernutrition and adult chronic degenerative disease results in enormous social and economic burdens for developing countries. Further research is urgently needed to examine the effect of childhood undernutrition on risk of obesity and chronic degenerative diseases; one goal of such research would be to determine and provide low-cost methods for prevention and treatment.