Obesity: the role of fetal programming

Published on March 31, 2016   37 min

Other Talks in the Series: Obesity: Science, Medicine and Society

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I'm Dr. Jess Buxton. I'm a researcher based at University College in London. My work involves investigating how genetic and environmental factors interact to affect disease risk. In this lecture, I'm going to be talking about the role of fetal programming in obesity.
So during this lecture, I'm going to describe what fetal programming is, and how it fits into the thrifty phenotype hypothesis in the wider research area of DOHaD. I'm going to also consider animal models of fetal programming, and some possible epigenetic mechanisms that explain this phenomenon. And finally, I'm going to look at the evidence for transgenerational effects of fetal programming.
So what causes obesity? We know that the causes are a complex mix of genetic and environmental factors, and an interaction between the two, often, including diet and low levels of physical activity. We also know that some genetic variations are involved and affect a person's risk of developing obesity. This talk is going to focus on the role of prenatal factors. So factors before birth that might affect our future risk of obesity in childhood and adulthood.
So fetal programming can be thought of as a particular set of environmental factors that affect disease risk. After all, our very first environment is the womb. But in particular, fetal programming is the concept that conditions in the womb during embryonic and fetal life can affect the development of tissues and organs, and that these changes can result in long-term consequences for health in childhood and adulthood.
What kinds of factors might affect the newborn baby cells? So, there are the obvious ones that we've known about for quite some time. Toxins such as cigarette smoke, tobacco. Some infections, such as rubella, German measles, can have long lasting effects on the development and health of the baby. Diet, maternal activity levels, and stress levels. So we know that all these things can affect the health and development the newborn baby. But what's become increasingly clear, since the early 1990s, is that some of these factors can have long-lasting effects on the health of the child and throughout its life into adulthood.