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The Developmental Origins of Adult Health and Disease

This project aims to reformulate and generalize standard theories of human health and mortality. It proposes new formal models and a systematic agenda to empirically test hypotheses that link developmental biology, epigenetics and adult human illness, disability and mortality. We seek to break new ground developing innovative formal models for illnesses and mortality, testing new hypotheses about the evolution of human health and, to the extent permitted by findings, reformulating standard theories to make them applicable to a less restrictive segment of populations than they are now. Over the past two decades there has been massive growth of research on the nature of delayed adult effects of conditions experienced in early life. This field of research is known as the Developmental Origins of Adult Health and Disease (DOHaD).

Increasing evidence suggests that the mechanisms that are implicated are epigenetic and constitute an evolved adaptation selected over thousands of years to improve fitness in changing landscapes. The emergence of DOHaD is as close as we will ever come to a paradigmatic shift in the study of human health, disability and mortality. The most tantalizing possibility is that advances in our understanding of epigenetic mechanisms will shed light on pathways linking early exposures and delayed adult health thus fundamentally transforming our understanding of human illnesses and, in one fell swoop, bridge population health, epigenetics, and developmental and evolutionary biology.

Objectives of the project

The overarching goal of this project is to contribute to this nascent area of study by (a) proposing new formal demographic models of health, disability and mortality; (b) empirically testing DOHaD predictions with population data; (c) testing a microsimulation model to verify DOHaD predictions about two conditions, obesity and Type 2 Diabetes, and (d) assessing the adult health, disability and mortality toll implicated by relations between early conditions, obesity and T2D.

Funding and implementation

ECHO has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 788582). It is housed in the Institute of Geography, Economics and Demography of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). ECHO ´s research team is in close collaboration with researchers at the Center for Demography of Health and Aging (CDHA) of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and at the California Center for Population Research at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).