The Holdsworth Memorial Hospital in Mysore, India, has maintained records of the sizes of all the babies born in its maternity department since 1934, allowing health researchers unique access to a large cross-section of the population now in middle age. Worryingly, the data shows that adults born with low birth weight are more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease in later life – while another long-term study of eight-year old children demonstrates clear links between foetal growth and retarded development later in life. Dr Caroline Fall is an epidemiologist from Southampton University in the UK who is in charge of co-ordinating global research into the long-term effects of low birth weight on health and development. She attributes most of the blame for low birth weight children on maternal poverty and undernutrition, which have increased dramatically in India since the governnent introduced liberalization of trade and agriculture in the early ’90s, leading to cutbacks in subsidies on food, agriculture, education and health. Low birth weight babies grow up to become malnourished mothers, who in turn give birth to more low birth weight babies. This ‘Life’ episode explores what can be done to improve maternal diet and break the vicious cycle of poverty and ill-health that condemns whole populations to sub-standard lives.
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