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The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on how health outcomes are unequally distributed among different population groups, with disadvantaged communities and individuals being disproportionality affected in terms of infection, morbidity and mortality, as well as vaccine access. Recently, there has been considerable debate about how social disadvantage and inequality intersect with developmental processes to result in a heightened susceptibility to environmental stressors, economic shocks and large-scale health emergencies. We argue that DOHaD Society members can make important contributions to addressing issues of inequality and improving community resilience in response to COVID-19. In order to do so, it is beneficial to engage with and adopt a social justice framework. We detail how DOHaD can align its research and policy recommendations with a social justice perspective to ensure that we contribute to improving the health of present and future generations in an equitable and socially just way.
Globally, mortality of Indigenous persons is greater than that of their non-Indigenous counterparts, which has been shown to be disproportionately attributable to non-communicable diseases. The historically subordinate position that Indigenous Knowledge (IK) held in comparison to Western science has shifted over the last several decades, with the credibility and importance of IK now being internationally recognized. Herein, we examine how Marsahall’s (2014) Two-Eyed Seeing can foster collaborative and culturally relevant Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) studies for health and well-being by using ‘..the best in Indigenous ways of knowing…[and] the best in Western (or mainstream) ways of knowing…and learn to use both these eyes for the benefit of all.’ At its core, Two-Eyed Seeing also includes the principles of ownership, control, access and possession, and Community-Based Participatory Research, which further reinforces the critical role of Indigenous peoples taking active roles in DOHaD research. Additionally, we also present a partnership model for working with Indigenous communities that includes the principles of respect, equity and empowerment. As researchers begin to fill the gap in Indigenous health, we outline how Two-Eyed Seeing should form the basis of DOHaD studies involving Indigenous communities. This model can be used to develop and guide projects that result in robust and meaningful participatory partnerships that have impactful uptake of research findings.
Epigenetics is likely to play a role in the mediation of the effects of genes and environment in risk for many non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) theory presents unique opportunities regarding the possibility of early life interventions to alter the epigenetic makeup of an individual, thereby modifying their risk for a variety of NCDs. While it is important to determine how we can lower the risk of these NCDs, it is equally important to understand how the public’s knowledge and opinion of DOHaD and epigenetic concepts may influence their willingness to undertake such interventions for themselves and their children. In this review, we provide an overview of epigenetics, DOHaD, NCDs, and the links between them. We explore the issues surrounding using epigenetics to identify those at increased risk of NCDs, including the concept of predictive testing of children. We also outline what is currently understood about the public’s understanding and opinion of epigenetics, DOHaD, and their relation to NCDs. In doing so, we demonstrate that it is essential that future research explores the public’s awareness and understanding of epigenetics and epigenetic concepts. This will provide much-needed information which will prepare health professionals for the introduction of epigenetic testing into future healthcare.
The field of epigenetics is currently one of the most rapidly expanding in biology and has resulted in increasing public interest in its applications to human health. Epigenetics provides a promising avenue for both targeted individual intervention and public health messaging. However, to develop effective strategies for engagement, it is important to understand the public’s understanding of the relevant concepts. While there has been some research exploring the public’s understanding of genetic and environmental susceptibility to disease, limited research exists on public opinion and understanding of epigenetics and epigenetic concepts. Using an online questionnaire, this study investigated the Australian public’s understanding, views, and opinions of epigenetics and related concepts, including the concepts of the developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD) and the first 1000 days. Over 600 questionnaires were completed, with 391 included in the analysis. The survey included questions on knowledge of epigenetics and perceptions of epigenetic concepts for self and for children. Data were analyzed using predominately descriptive statistics, with free-text responses scored based on concordance with predetermined definitions. While participants’ recognition of epigenetic terms and phrases was high, their understanding was limited. The DOHaD theory was more accurately understood than the first 1000 days or epigenetics itself. Female participants without children were more likely to recognize the term epigenetics, while age also had an impact. This research provides a solid foundation for further detailed investigation of these themes, all of which will be important data to help inform future public health messages regarding epigenetic concepts.
Fructose (C6H12O6), also known as levulose, is a hexose. Chronic consumption of fructose may be associated with increased intrahepatic fat concentration and the development of insulin resistance as well as an increase in the prevalence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and hyperlipidemia during pregnancy. Despite the existence of many studies regarding the consumption of fructose in pregnancy, its effects on fetuses have not yet been fully elucidated. Therefore, the objective of this study was to evaluate the genetic and biochemical effects in offspring (male and female) of female mice treated with fructose during pregnancy and lactation. Pairs of 60-day-old Swiss mice were used and divided into three groups; negative control and fructose, 10%/l and 20%/l doses of fructose groups. After offspring birth, the animals were divided into six groups: P1 and P2 (males and females), water; P3 and P4 (males and females) fructose 10%/l; and P5 and P6 (males and females) fructose 20%/l. At 30 days of age, the animals were euthanized for genetic and biochemical assessments. Female and male offspring from both dosage groups demonstrated genotoxicity (evaluated through comet assay) and oxidative stress (evaluated through nitrite concentration, sulfhydril content and superoxide dismutase activity) in peripheral and brain tissues. In addition, they showed nutritional and metabolic changes due to the increase in food consumption, hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia, and metabolic syndrome. Therefore, it is suggested that high consumption of fructose by pregnant female is harmful to their offspring. Thus, it is important to carry out further studies and make pregnant women aware of excessive fructose consumption during this period.
While metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes are costly and deadly to the current population, they are also extremely detrimental to the next generation. Much of the current literature focuses on the negative impact of poor maternal choices on offspring disease, while there is little work examining maternal behaviors that may improve offspring health. Research has shown that voluntary maternal exercise in mouse models improves metabolic function in offspring. In this study, we hypothesized that controlled maternal exercise in a mouse model will effect positive change on offspring obesity and glucose homeostasis. Female mice were separated into three groups: home cage, sedentary, and exercise. The sedentary home cage group was not removed from the home cage, while the sedentary wheel group was removed from the cage and placed in an immobile wheel apparatus. The exercise group was removed from the home cage and run on the same wheel apparatus but with the motor activated at 5–10 m/min for 1 h/d prior to and during pregnancy. Offspring were subjected to oral glucose tolerance testing and body composition analysis. There was no significant difference in offspring glucose tolerance or body composition as a consequence of the maternal exercise intervention compared to the sedentary wheel group. There were no marked negative consequences of the maternal controlled exercise intervention. Further research should clarify the potential advantages of the controlled exercise model and improve experimental techniques to facilitate translation of this research to human applications.
The objective of this study was to determine the association between birthweight and risk of thyroid and autoimmune conditions in a large sample of postmenopausal women. Baseline data from the Women’s Health Initiative (n = 80,806) were used to examine the associations between birthweight category (<6 lbs., 6–7 lbs. 15 oz, 8–9 lbs. 15 oz, and ≥10 lbs.) and prevalent thyroid (underactive and overactive thyroid and goiter) and autoimmune (lupus, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis/Crohn’s disease) conditions. Follow-up questionnaire data were used to examine the associations between birthweight and incident underactive and overactive thyroid, lupus, and RA. Logistic and Cox proportional hazards regression models were used to estimate crude and adjusted odds (OR) and hazards ratios (HR), respectively. Overall, women born weighing ≥10 lbs. had an increased risk for underactive thyroid [OR 1.14 (95% CI 1.02, 1.28)] and incident lupus [HR 1.51 (95% CI 1.12, 2.03)] and a decreased risk for overactive thyroid [OR 0.67 (95% CI 0.50, 0.92)] compared to women born weighing 6–7.99 lbs., after adjustment for adult BMI, demographic variables, and lifestyle factors. Further, women born weighing <6 lbs. were at increased risk for underactive thyroid [OR 1.13 (95% CI 1.04, 1.22)]. Birthweight was not associated with other thyroid or autoimmune disorders. High birthweight was associated with later-life thyroid and autoimmune conditions while low birthweight was associated with underactive thyroid. Preconception and prenatal interventions aimed at reducing the risk of both high and low birthweights may reduce the burden of later-life thyroid and autoimmune conditions.
Numerous studies have shown associations between maternal stress and poor birth outcomes, but evidence is unclear for causal inference. Natural disasters provide an opportunity to study effects of quasi-randomized hardship with an accurate measure of onset and duration. In a population-based quasi-experimental study, we examined the effect of maternal exposure to the January 1998 Québec ice storm on birth outcomes by comparing pregnant mothers who lived in an area hard hit by the ice storm with those in two unaffected regions. In a total of 147,349 singleton births between 1995 and 2001, we used a difference-in-differences method to estimate the effects of the ice storm on gestational age at delivery (GA), preterm birth (PTB), weight-for-gestational-age z-scores (BWZ), large for gestational age (LGA), and small for gestational age (SGA). After adjusting for maternal and sociodemographic characteristics, there were no differences between the exposed and the unexposed mothers for birth outcomes. The estimated differences (exposed vs. unexposed) were 0.01 SDs (95% CI: −0.02, 0.05) for BWZ; 0.10% point (95% CI: −0.95%, 1.16%) for SGA; 0.25% point (95% CI: −0.78%, 1.28%) for LGA; −0.01 week (95% CI: −0.07, 0.05) for GA; and 0.16% point (95% CI: −0.66%, 0.97%) for PTB. Neither trimester-specific nor dose–response associations were observed. Overall, exposure to the 1998 Québec ice storm as a proxy for acute maternal stress in pregnancy was not associated with poor birth outcomes. Our results suggest that acute maternal hardship may not have a substantial effect on adverse birth outcomes.
Maternal adversity and prenatal stress confer risk for child behavioral health problems. Few studies have examined this intergenerational process across multiple dimensions of stress; fewer have explored potential protective factors. Using a large, diverse sample of mother–child dyads, we examined associations between maternal childhood trauma, prenatal stressors, and offspring socioemotional-behavioral development, while also examining potential resilience-promoting factors. The Conditions Affecting Neurocognitive Development and Learning and Early Childhood (CANDLE) study prospectively followed 1503 mother–child dyads (65% Black, 32% White) from pregnancy. Exposures included maternal childhood trauma, socioeconomic risk, intimate partner violence, and geocode-linked neighborhood violent crime during pregnancy. Child socioemotional-behavioral functioning was measured via the Brief Infant Toddler Social Emotional Assessment (mean age = 1.1 years). Maternal social support and parenting knowledge during pregnancy were tested as potential moderators. Multiple linear regressions (N = 1127) revealed that maternal childhood trauma, socioeconomic risk, and intimate partner violence were independently, positively associated with child socioemotional-behavioral problems at age one in fully adjusted models. Maternal parenting knowledge moderated associations between both maternal childhood trauma and prenatal socioeconomic risk on child problems: greater knowledge was protective against the effects of socioeconomic risk and was promotive in the context of low maternal history of childhood trauma. Findings indicate that multiple dimensions of maternal stress and adversity are independently associated with child socioemotional-behavioral problems. Further, modifiable environmental factors, including knowledge regarding child development, can mitigate these risks. Both findings support the importance of parental screening and early intervention to promote child socioemotional-behavioral health.
Newborns show physiological differences in low- and high-altitude settings of Ecuador; those differences are especially relevant because most important cities in Ecuador are located at high altitude, above 2500 m. This study is an epidemiological, observational, and cross-sectional research performed at San Francisco Hospital in Quito (at 2850 m) and General Hospital in Manta (at 6 m) in the Manabí province. We studied 204 full-term newborns, healthy without any prenatal comorbidities, singleton pregnancy, mestizos, and born of healthy parents born. We found significant differences between the values of red blood cells (RBC), leucocytes, hematocrit, and hemoglobin. There was a difference of 27% more in RBC, 3% at hematocrit, and 0.4 g at hemoglobin in the high-altitude cohort. The leucocyte difference is 1270 cells/µl, which means a difference of 6%. At high-altitude settings, the mean pH was lower than normal values and pO2, pCO2, and HCO3. High-altitude newborns showed RBC of > 4,500,000 cells/µl; leukocytes > 19,000; pO2 ≤ 72 mm Hg; hemoglobin > 17.50 g/dl; and hematocrit > 54%. Both cohorts showed physiological changes of transition to extrauterine life. We observed higher polycythemia, respiratory acidosis, and hypoxemia among high-altitude newborns. High-altitude setting intensifies the physiological changes in hematological and arterial blood gases parameters.
Maternal diet during pregnancy has long been recognised as an important determinant of neonatal outcomes and child development. Infant body composition is a potentially modifiable risk factor for predicting future health and metabolic disease. Utilising the Mediterranean Diet Score, this study focused on how different levels of Mediterranean Diet adherence (MDA) in pregnancy influence body fat percentage of the infant. Information on 458 pregnant women in their third trimester of pregnancy and their infants was obtained from The ORIGINS Project. The data included MDA score, body composition measurements using infant air displacement plethysmography (PEA POD), pregnancy, and birth information. Infants born to mothers with high MDA had a body fat percentage of 11.3%, whereas infants born to mothers with low MDA had a higher body fat percentage of 13.3% (p = 0.010). When adjusted for pre-pregnancy body mass index and infant sex, a significant result remained between high vs. low MDA and infant fat mass (FM) (2.5% less FM p = 0.016). This study suggests that high MDA in pregnancy was associated with a reduced body fat percentage in the newborn. Future studies are needed to understand whether small but significant changes in FM persist throughout childhood.
Asymptomatic bacteriuria (ASB) is a well-acknowledged infectious entity during pregnancy; yet its long-term implications are not well investigated. The present study aimed to test the association between maternal ASB during pregnancy and long-term offspring infectious hospitalizations. A population-based cohort analysis was conducted, comparing the incidence of long-term infectious-related hospitalizations of offspring born to mothers who were diagnosed with ASB during pregnancy, and those who did not have ASB. The study was conducted at a tertiary medical center and included all singleton deliveries between the years 1991 and 2014. Infectious morbidities were based on a predefined set of International Classification of Disease-9 codes. A Kaplan−Meier survival curve compared cumulative infectious hospitalization incidence between the groups, and a Cox regression model was used to adjust for confounding variables. During the study period, 212,984 deliveries met inclusion criteria. Of them, 5378 (2.5%) were diagnosed with ASB. As compared to offspring of non-ASB mothers, total long-term infectious hospitalizations were significantly higher among children to mothers who were diagnosed with ASB (13.1% vs. 11.1%, OR = 1.2, 95% CI 1.11–1.30, P ≤ 0.001). Likewise, a Kaplan−Meier curve demonstrated higher cumulative incidence of infectious hospitalizations among children born to mothers with ASB (log rank, P = 0.006). In the Cox regression model, while controlling for maternal age, diabetes mellitus, ethnicity, hypertensive disorders, and gestational age, maternal ASB was noted as an independent risk factor for long-term infectious morbidity in the offspring (adjusted HR = 1.1, 95% CI 1.01–1.17, P = 0.042). ASB during pregnancy increases offspring susceptibility to long-term infectious hospitalizations.
Birthweight has been consistently related to risk of cardiometabolic disorders in later life. Twins are at higher risk of low birthweight than singletons, so understanding the links between birthweight and cardiometabolic health may be particularly important for twins. However, evidence for the association of birthweight with childhood markers of cardiometabolic health in twins is currently lacking. Previous studies have often failed to appropriately adjust for gestational age or fully implement twin regression models. Therefore, we aimed to evaluate the association of birthweight-for-gestational-age z-scores with childhood cardiometabolic health in twins, using within-between regression models. The Peri/Postnatal Epigenetic Twins Study is a Melbourne-based prospective cohort study of 250 twin pairs. Birthweight was recorded at delivery, and childhood anthropometric measures were taken at 18-month and 6-year follow-up visits. Associations of birthweight with markers of cardiometabolic health were assessed at the individual, between- and within-pair level using linear regression with generalised estimating equations. Birthweight-for-gestational-age z-scores were associated with height, weight and BMI at 18 months and 6 years, but not with blood pressure (twins-as-individual SBP: β = 0.15, 95% CI: −0.81, 1.11; twins-as-individual DBP: β = 0.22, 95% CI: −0.34, 0.77). We found little evidence to indicate that the within-between models improved on the twins-as-individuals models. Birthweight was associated with childhood anthropometric measures, but not blood pressure, after appropriately adjusting for gestational age. These associations were consistent across the within-between and twins-as-individuals models. After adjusting for gestational age, results from the twins-as-individuals models are consistent with singleton studies, so these results can be applied to the general population.