There is increasing concern about the rapidly rising incidence of obesity worldwide and its impact both on mortality, morbidity and the cost of healthcare. In the last 15 years, a large volume of research has linked low birth weight to many adult diseases in humans, such as Type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and the metabolic syndrome. Obesity is a causal factor in all these conditions. There are epidemiological studies linking low birth weight to increased adiposity, but the timing of the insult during gestation seems crucial, as reducing maternal nutrition in late gestation and during lactation causes a reduction in later obesity. Recent studies in animal models have provided clues towards mechanisms of altered appetite regulation following alterations in fetal and neonatal growth. The outcome of these and future studies could prove clinically crucial, particularly in the debate over the benefits of breast feeding, which provides a lower plane of nutrition compared with formula feeding.

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