University of Southampton

Pioneering research into the origins of disease

Over thirty years ago, a team of epidemiologists at the University of Southampton, challenged traditional thinking about the origins of common chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and coronary heart disease.

While most experts believed that these diseases could be explained by a combination of bad genes and unhealthy adult lifestyles, a team led by Professor David Barker suggested they were linked to poor maternal nutrition, restricted growth in the womb and premature birth.

The "Barker hypothesis" - now mainstream in medical research around the world – gave rise to a new field of research known as the developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD).

The Southampton team argued that tackling chronic disease required a shift in focus, with healthcare professionals focused on the health and nutrition of girls, pregnant women and infants.

In 1998 the team launched the now-famous Southampton Women’s Survey - the first study in the developed world of women and their children which studied the mothers before the conception of their child to capture unique information about the dietary and lifestyle factors that influence the health of women and their children.

Today, new generations benefit from Professor Barker’s pioneering work, including 10,000 secondary school students in Southampton who have benefitted from the University’s acclaimed LifeLab initiative, empowering young people to make healthy choices about their own lifestyles.