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Fetal forecasts.

A growing fetus takes cues from its mother to predict the environment it is likely to live in after birth, according to a new study from the University of Southampton (U.K.). The fetus then adapts its physiological development to ensure it has the best chance of survival in that expected future development.

If these predictions are correct and the fetus's physiology is appropriate for its environment, all is well. However, inaccurate predictions lead to an increased risk of certain diseases.

The increase of that risk depends on the size of the mismatch between the predicted and actual environment. For example, if individuals receive poor nutrition in the womb and grow up eating high-calorie, high-fat diets, they will be at a higher risk of such diseases as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and osteoporosis.

"If our appetite, food preferences, ability to lay down fat, and inclination to exercise are all predetermined in the womb at a very early stage of fetal development, then changing one's lifestyle later in life to reduce the risk of disease may be too late to have any real effect," says Peter Gluckman of the Liggins Institute in Auckland, New Zealand. Gluckman recommends that public-health programs shift attention from at-risk adults to expectant mothers and ensuring that they receive the best possible nutrition.

Source: University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton SO17 1BJ, United Kingdom. Web site

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Title Annotation:Demography
Author:Coles, Clifton
Publication:The Futurist
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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