Even if you’re not usually a fan of science programmes, you’ll want to watch this one because it’s all about you. Yes, you. And your kids, and your grandchildren as well. You might have heard a theory being bandied about that big babies do better in later life. It sounds too simplistic to be true, but this programme explains why. For the past 20 years British scientist Professor David Barker has been collecting evidence from all over the world to show that babies born with a low birth weight are more likely to develop heart disease and Type 2 diabetes when they’re adults.
It’s a theory that has turned conventional medical wisdom on its head because these have always been thought of as diseases caused by affluent, over-indulgent, Western lifestyles. But there’s a diabetes epidemic in India where people eat a healthy diet, get lots of exercise, but were born weighing less than average.
Professor Barker’s suggestion that the quality of nutrition we get while we’re in the womb will affect how good our bodies are at fighting disease is an exciting one, but also a bit depressing. That gym membership might not be doing you as much good as you think. But on the other hand, it makes it possible to build humans who will live long and healthy lives. If you’re pregnant, or planning to get pregnant, don’t miss this.
Exercise daily? Eat your fruit and veg? Stopped smoking? Bad news. You could be doomed, nonetheless. David Barker's theory sounds pretty hokey when you first hear about it. The idea is that, irrespective of that £100 gym membership, those five-a-day and that kicked habit, much of our health has been determined by the time we get out of the womb. You can see why mothers don't believe it when, on Horizon: The Nine Months That Made You, they are asked about Barker's theory, at random in the street. It seems less a scientific prescription, more a kind of fortune-teller's ruse. I'm not sure I want to believe it, either. After all, life would have been a lot more fun if I'd known I had a free pass all along (for this was one enormous baby, back in the day).
Of course, diet and exercise and all those other things do come into it, too. But they are at their most significant where birth weights are particularly low. The lighter you are when you are born, the more you will be affected by your lifestyle. That is why, or so the theory goes, people like my grandfather live to their late eighties while smoking like chimneys. It's also why Dr Ranjan Yajnik has discovered a new body type, the thin-fat Indian – considerably slimmer than their English counterpart, but carrying significantly more body fat. It explains, he argues, India's epidemic of obesity-related ailments: heart disease, type 2 diabetes and so on.