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Origins of Disease

OPB | Sept. 15, 2011 9:06 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 10:37 p.m.

As a new mom, I blanched when I first heard about the field of study about the origins of disease stemming back to fetal development. I remember hearing author Annie Murphy Paul talking on the radio about her book Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives. I was about seven months pregnant with my second child. My partner and I had many discussions about what I was and wasn’t eating and drinking during pregnancy. I just couldn’t deal with anything else that I thought would give me more pressure and stress to deal than what I already had! I didn’t read the book and didn’t really learn anything more about this field.

As luck would have it, I wasn’t able to avoid finding out about subject for too long. Turns out, the founder of the field is from the UK but he teaches at OHSU. David Barker is one of the hundreds of researchers from more than 40 countries that will be taking part in an international conference coming up this weekend in Portland. When I asked what people might do with this information if their course has already been charted so to speak, from before they were born. He said to think of it like “motorcars.”

They break down because they weren’t made well or weren’t taken good care of in the first place.

As for how this might change my behavior if I was sick and knew that at least part of the cause lay in my fetal development, he said, essentially that if you knew you had a car that had problems, you’d take extra good care of it and maybe be bit extra careful when you were driving.

But it’s not all about fetal development. Barker says researchers also focus on the impact that early nutrition, from birth to two years, has on later health outcomes.

Have you talked with your doctor about how your birth weight or other developmental factors may be influencing a condition you’re getting care for? If you’re pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant, how much attention are you paying to your own nutrition? What questions do you have about this relatively new field researching the fetal and early childhood origins of disease?

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