Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

Research Article

Early nutrition and long-term health: a practical approach

Symposium on ‘Early nutrition and later disease: current concepts, research and implications’

on 2–4 October 2008, The 1st International Symposium of the Nutrition Society, was held as part of the 9th International Congress on Nutrition, Longevity and Quality of Life held at Centro de Convenções e Eventos Frei Caneca, São Paulo, Brazil.

Julie Lanigana1 c1 and Atul Singhala1

a1 The MRC Childhood Nutrition Research Centre, University College London, Institute of Child Health, 30 Guilford Street, London WC1N 1EH, UK


Nutrition in early life, a critical period for human development, can have long-term effects on health in adulthood. Supporting evidence comes from epidemiological studies, animal models and experimental interventions in human subjects. The mechanism is proposed to operate through nutritional influences on growth. Substantial evidence now supports the hypothesis that ‘accelerated’ or too fast infant growth increases the propensity to the major components of the metabolic syndrome (glucose intolerance, obesity, raised blood pressure and dyslipidaemia), the clustering of risk factors that predispose to cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. The association between infant growth and these risk factors is strong, consistent, shows a dose–response effect and is biologically plausible. Moreover, experimental data from prospective randomised controlled trials strongly support a causal link between infant growth and later risk factors for atherosclerosis. Evidence that infant growth affects the development of atherosclerosis therefore suggests that the primary prevention of CVD should begin from as early as the first few months of life. The present review considers this evidence, the underlying mechanisms involved and its implications for public health.

(Online publication August 24 2009)


c1 Corresponding author: Julie Lanigan, fax +44 20 7831 9903, email