Non-communicable diseases pose an important
health concern across the globe. They may even result in sudden death and
include conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancers, etc.
Robert Barouki and colleagues presented a
white paper that was published in BMC Environmental Health, 2012, highlighting
the developmental origins of non-communicable diseases and their implications
for research and public health policies.
The authors suggest that an increase in
non-communicable diseases in the recent years is due to the interaction of
environment with the genetic makeup of the individual especially in the
developmental stages. These environmental factors include nutrition,
infections, the microbiome, drugs, chemicals, and stress and could have either
beneficial or adverse effects on the individual.
If the environmental change is strong and
sudden, and affects an individual during the developmental phase, it results in
grave consequences like death, birth defects, and low birth weight. If the
change is more subtle, they may result in disease later in life.
Nutrition is an important factor that could
be associated with future diseases. Maternal malnutrition results in reduced
nutrition to the fetus during the developmental stages. In some instances, such
conditions were associated with metabolic syndrome in later life. Unbalanced
nutrition while the child is in the uterus has been associated with obesity in
adulthood. Maternal obesity could also influence the babies in later life.
Environmental chemicals and drugs like
alcohol and thalidomide can have serious consequences on the developing fetus
without affecting the mother. Exposure to low doses of some chemicals may not
cause fetal malformations but may predispose them to diseases later in
adulthood. For example, exposure to chemicals like phthalates, bisphenol A, and
tributyltins can lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes in later life.
paper states that early development (prenatal life and the first few years of
postnatal life) is highly susceptible to developmental disruption by
environmental chemical and nutritional factors. These factors have harmful and
unpleasant impact in the later part of life. Preventive policies should be
formulated to target these factors during the early developmental stages.
Developmental origins of non-communicable
disease: Implications for research and public health; Robert Barouki et al; BMC
Environmental Health 2012