Research Priority

Reproductive and early life origins of health and disease.

Non-communicable diseases are on the rise. Conditions including cardiovascular disease, asthma, allergies, obesity, diabetes and neurological disorders are increasing at an alarming rate in the western world.

It is predicted that children born today will be the first generation to die at a younger age than their parents. To halt this alarming trend, we need to shift our focus from treating conditions when they arise, to preventing conditions from occurring.

It is apparent that chronic diseases originate in the earliest stages of life; developmental events before birth contribute to imparting either susceptibility or resilience to later life chronic disease.

To provide children with the healthiest start to life, a comprehensive understanding of each of the following periods is vital for effective interventions to be developed. 

What impacts a child’s life-long health trajectory?

The foundation for healthy childhood and adult life are established before birth...

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  • Pre-conception

    The health of prospective parents (and their parents before them), their choices and environmental exposures are fundamental for setting the health trajectory for children - with the most critical phase being pre-conception.

  • Social determinants, lifestyle factors, disease and disorders, and exposures

    Social determinants (poverty, housing and food security) lifestyle factors (age, diet, physical activity, smoking, alcohol and drug use, stress and shift work), disease and disorders (infertility, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, cancer and obesity) and exposures (environment and air pollutants, cosmetics and pharmaceutical products, and household and garden chemicals), all impact the chances of conception, and development of the embryo and fetus, embedding susceptibility to later life chronic disease.

  • Conception

    The circumstances of conception affect the lifelong health of offspring. There is mounting evidence that assisted reproductive technologies can subtly change the development of the fetus. While these treatments are an important option for some couples, in many cases, lifestyle changes or waiting longer to conceive naturally may be better options – visit YourFertility for more information.

  • Pregnancy

    Maternal and paternal health, lifestyle factors, social circumstances, disease and disorders, and exposures during pregnancy contribute significantly to fetal development and life-long health prospects of infants after birth.

    Pregnancy complications can have serious life-long health implications for both the mother and her baby, and they are common. A quarter of Australian pregnancies are affected by preeclampsia, preterm birth, fetal growth restriction and/or gestational diabetes.

    The cost of these conditions for individuals, families and communities is enormous. Indeed the World Health Organisation equates the burden of maternal and infant conditions to cancer, when measured as lifetime disability. 

  • Labour

    The events leading up to and during labour, especially the gestation time of delivery, as well as mode of delivery and any complications and interventions, all have health implications for the mother and her baby, which can persist throughout life. Therefore, it is important to understand the impacts and improve practice to improve health outcomes for mother and baby.

  • Early post-birth life

    Brain growth and development occurs at a rapid pace before age two. A child’s ability to grow, learn and thrive is impacted by how well or poorly they are nourished, how safe and loved they feel, and their level of exposure to environmental toxins all of which are in turn affected by social determinants of health.