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The University of Southampton
The India Centre for Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development

Diet for a Lifetime

The University of Southampton's research on maternal nutrition in India.

For the past 25 years Professor Caroline Fall has been working with doctors and researchers in Pune, Mumbai, Mysore, Delhi, Vellore and Hyderabad, studying mothers and children living in a variety of settings, from remote rural communities to some of the largest cities.

With her Indian colleagues, she has set up long-term research studies in which the physique, diet and health of women during pregnancy have been  recorded, and then the children followed up to monitor their growth, brain development, and early signs of heart disease and diabetes.

Cognitive testing Mysore cohort study
Cognitive testing Mysore cohort study

Mother's nutrition

Did you know that your mother’s nutrition and health when you were a fetus growing in her womb influence your health throughout your life? Research in Southampton has linked poor nutrition during early development to important diseases in later life, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis. To take type 2 diabetes as an example, a man or woman who had a low birth weight, or whose mother had diabetes in pregnancy, is at increased risk of developing the disease. This occurs because good nutrition is essential for the proper development of organs and tissue (such as the liver, pancreas and muscle) which control our metabolism, protect us from diabetes, and after developing in the fetus have to last us a lifetime.

Measuring a newborn from the Mumbai Maternal Nutrition Project
Measuring a newborn from the Mumbai Maternal Nutrition Project

Clear links shown

Professor Caroline Fall, at the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit has extended this research to India. For the past 25 years she has been working with doctors and researchers in Pune, Mumbai, Mysore, Delhi, Vellore and Hyderabad, studying mothers and children living in a variety of settings, from remote rural communities to some of the largest cities. With her Indian colleagues, she has set up long-term research studies in which the physique, diet and health of women during pregnancy have been recorded, and then the children followed up to monitor their growth, brain development, and early signs of heart disease and diabetes. The research has shown clear links between poor maternal nutrition and health and all of these outcomes in the children as they mature into adults. Professor Fall is convinced that in order to prevent type 2 diabetes and heart disease, we should be doing as much to improve the diet and health of mothers preparing for pregnancy, in order to build healthier people in the next generation, as we do trying to persuade people in middle age to look after their health by losing weight, taking enough exercise and giving up smoking.

Checking growth Mysore cohort study
Checking growth Mysore cohort study

How to help

She and her Indian colleagues are now taking this research forward by actively intervening to make the diet and health of young women as good as possible before they become pregnant, as well as during pregnancy, and then following up the newborns and children to prove that this intervention benefits their health. Obviously, this type of research takes many years to complete, but the results so far have already convinced the scientific community and health ministers around the world that the ‘first 1,000 days’ (from conception to the age of 2 years after birth) is a vitally important stage of our lives, and worthy of better investment. If our nutrition is not at its best during this time, a long shadow is cast upon our development and health, a situation which is eminently preventable through better care of young women and mothers.

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