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The origins of health and disease: the influence of maternal diseases and lifestyle during gestation

Lucetta Capra1*, Giovanna Tezza2, Federica Mazzei2 and Attilio L Boner2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Reproduction and Growth, Section of Pediatrics, Azienda Ospedaliera Universitaria Sant’Anna Ferrara, Ferrara, Italy

2 Department of Life Sciences and Reproduction, Section of Pediatrics, University of Verona, Policlinico G.B. Rossi, Verona, Italy

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Italian Journal of Pediatrics 2013, 39:7  doi:10.1186/1824-7288-39-7

Published: 23 January 2013


According to the Barker hypothesis, the period of pregnancy and the intrauterine environment are crucial to the tendency to develop diseases like hypertension, diabetes, coronary heart disease, metabolic disorders, pulmonary, renal and mental illnesses. The external environment affects the development of a particular phenotype suitable for an environment with characteristics that closely resemble intrauterine conditions. If the extra-uterine environment differs greatly from the intra-uterine one, the fetus is more prone to develop disease. Subsequent studies have shown that maternal diseases like depression and anxiety, epilepsy, asthma, anemia and metabolic disorders, like diabetes, are able to determine alterations in growth and fetal development. Similarly, the maternal lifestyle, particularly diet, exercise and smoking during pregnancy, have an important role in determining the risk to develop diseases that manifest themselves both during childhood and particularly in adulthood. Finally, there are abundant potential sources of pollutants, both indoor and outdoor, in the environment in which the child lives, which can contribute to an increased probability to the development of several diseases and that in some cases could be easily avoided.

Diseases in pregnancy; Depression; Psychosocial stress; Epilepsy; Diabetes; Asthma; Sleep disorders; Maternal diet; Pollutants; Folic acid