Congress Report: The Power of Programming – International Conference on Developmental Origins of Health and Disease. Munich, Germany, May 2010.

June 1, 2010

The current focus of nutritional science has shifted from meeting needs to determining the biological effects that nutrition has on immediate and lifetime health.

Of particular interest is the concept of programming, the idea that a stimulus or insult during a critical or sensitive period of development can have long-term or lifetime effects on an organism. Randomized controlled trials show that nutrition in early life has a major impact on health into early adulthood, notably on cardiovascular disease risk, bone health and cognitive function. These new findings have major biological, social and medical implications and should increasingly underpin health practices. The International Conference “Power of Programming” reviewed the state of the art, new results and future perspectives in the area of programming research and its application.

Conference Highlights:

  • Results from a randomized controlled trial do not support a long term beneficial effect of prolonged and exclusive breast-feeding on adiposity, stature, or blood pressure in childhood (Martin R. et al. Effects of prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding on adiposity, stature, and blood pressure in children aged 11.5 years: evidence from the Promotion of Breastfeeding Intervention Trial).
  • Results from an observational study show that solid food introduction in formula-fed infants of five European countries was not associated with growth patterns during first 2 years of life (Grote V., Schriess S., Koletzko B. Solid introduction and growth in the first two years of life with formula-fed children).
  • Research results show that the placenta plays the central role in the regulation of processes to protect the fetal supply. Fetal iron requirement is signaled by an unidentified molecule to the maternal liver. The system operates effectively until a certain break point is reached, when the maternal liver re-asserts its iron requirement. If the mother cannot keep up the levels above this break point, the fetus will become iron deficient. Until this point, the fetus is protected at the expense of the mother (McArdle H. C. et al. Fetal signaling of iron needs).
  • High birth weight and childhood growth have been associated with adult hypertension. High blood pressure and obesity are linked to later cardio- and cerebrovascular disease. Results from a meta-analyses indicate, that due to low to moderate blood pressure tracking from childhood to adulthood regular blood pressure controls are also needed in children with normal blood pressure measurements helping to possibly identifying hypertensive children earlier (Toschle M. Will the observed health impact from exposure in early life be sustained? Meta-analysis on tracking of blood pressure and BMI).
  • Results from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study suggest that vitamin D supplementation may reduce the risk of preeclampsia, with a 27% lower risk for women taking 10–15 micrograms/day as compared to no supplements. Furthermore, adherence to a dietary pattern characterized by high intake of vegetables, plant foods and also vegetable oil was associated with decreased risk of preeclampsia (Meltzer H.M. et al. Impact of dietary factors in pregnancy on risk of pregnancy complications: results from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study).
  • Recent study results show that the intake of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) during pregnancy may be positively associated with the intellectual ability of the offspring in early childhood (Ström M. et al. Maternal intake of fish and docosahexaenoic acid during pregnancy and IQ of offspring measured at 5 years).
  • Nutrition surveys show that diet quality is markedly poorer among women who smoked during pregnancy, as well as among younger and less educated women. These factors were associated with poorer reproductive outcomes (Mendez M. Dietary patterns during pregnancy across Europe).