ISEMPH Presentation Featured Speaker: Peter Gluckman
Centre for Human Evolution, Adaptation and Disease, Liggins Institute, University of Auckland, New Zealand
There have been many controversies at the evolutionary-developmental interface, one in particular has been continuing for over 30 year, how to explain why prenatal developmental exposures lead to a greater risk of obesity and non-communicable disease (NCD) in later life. Clearly “evolutionary mismatch” consequent on the recent intensification of the obesogenic environment development is a factor but it is necessary to explain why developmental exposures in utero and infancy exacerbate that risk. While epidemiological and experimental observations that maternal stress and maternal malnutrition predispose to later NCD risk, public health rejected the significance of these observations for over 20 years due to a lack of a conceptual and mechanistic basis. An initial attempt at a conceptual paradigm (the “thrifty phenotype hypothesis”) invoked concepts of adaptive developmental plasticity. While not supported by empirical data, this led to the “predictive adaptive response” (PAR) paradigm spurring considerable theoretical and empirical research as well as debate. Recently the PAR model has received empirical support. Molecular epigenetic studies have added weight to the conceptual arguments providing estimates of the significance of these developmental and trans-generational effects. These evolutionary arguments played an important role in shifting public health attitudes and are reflected in the 2011 Declaration on NCDs by the UN General Assembly and in the WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO) established in 2014 leading to a redirection of preventative efforts in obesity towards developmental factors.