Early Life Nutrition Part of NIH Research Plan for First Time

The nation’s leading scientific research organization, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), included the role of nutrition during pregnancy and early life in their recently released nutrition research strategic plan. This is the first time it’s been included. The Developmental Origins of Health and Disease field has grown rapidly since the early 1990s when David Barker, M.D., Ph.D., FRCOG, first introduced the hypothesis that nutrition before birth is associated with risk of dying from heart disease as an adult.

Since then, evidence from multiple populations and time frames has corroborated his thinking and it has grown into a robust field of research for understanding how our earliest environment impacts our lifelong risk for multiple chronic diseases. Barker spent the end of his career, until his death in 2013, at OHSU and was instrumental in laying the groundwork for what is now the OHSU Bob and Charlee Moore Institute for Nutrition & Wellness. Barker and Kent Thornburg, Ph.D., visited NIH officials on several occasions emphasizing the need for nutrition research in early development to better understand the roots of the U.S. obesity and diabetes epidemic.

The 2020-2030 NIH Nutrition Research Strategic Plan focuses on precision nutrition - the goal of actionable dietary recommendations specific to each individual. The plan aims to support research that will help us understand what, when, why and how to eat to improve health and quality of life. The plan includes multiple strategies that focus on the formative role of nutrition in pregnancy, infancy and childhood. These include research into human milk composition, the influence of diet on infant development and the role of prenatal nutrition in disease outcomes.

The plan also emphasizes the multiple interconnected factors that influence diet and health, including socioeconomic status, food environment, genetic profile and the microbiome. For the first time, the upcoming 2020 USDA Dietary Guidelines will also include specific nutrition recommendations for pregnant women and children through age two. Two respected national organizations, the NIH and the USDA, are now specifically calling out the importance of nutrition during pregnancy and in early life, giving additional validation to the importance and scientific merit of DOHaD research into how nutrition before birth and in early life impacts lifelong chronic disease risk.

Watch NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., introduce the strategic plan at Nutrition 2020, the annual nutrition science meeting hosted by the American Society for Nutrition Foundation.