The conditions around conception, within the womb and during infancy and early childhood have a lasting effect on a child’s life. Known as the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD), our researchers in Southampton have pioneered the concept that exposure to certain environment influences at critical periods of development will have significant consequences for the individual’s short and longer-term health.
This generated much international interest, and a search for the underlying mechanisms and new interventions to prevent chronic diseases, starting before conception and during the first 1000 days of life. Our research has demonstrated the importance of early life epigenetic changes – related to aspects of the diet, lifestyle or adiposity of mothers and fathers – in relation to the risk for later chronic diseases in the next generation. With the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Centre, our interventions have included improving the food environment in communities, nutritional intervention preconception, and maternal vitamin D supplementation in pregnancy.
We conduct qualitative research to explore how these new concepts can inform health policy, particularly in the prevention of childhood obesity and cardiovascular disease risk and the application of life-course concepts underlying DOHaD.
The research also influenced policy development and debates in the UK, including establishment of the ‘UK Preconception Partnership’, comprising leading epidemiologists, scientists and clinical academics, working with the government Office for Health Improvement and Disparities. Alongside colleagues at Southampton Education School, our team has developed a purpose-built teaching laboratory, LifeLab, at University Hospital Southampton to engage school students about how their current health and life choices affect the health of their future children.