Professor David Barker is Director of the Medical Research Council Environmental Epidemiology Unit and Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Southampton, England. He trained as a physician at Guy’s Hospital, London, and thereafter at the Queen Elizabeth Centre in Birmingham.
His research focuses on how a baby’s nutrition and growth in the womb determines its health in adult life. Studies by his MRC Unit have shown that people who had low birthweight or were thin or stunted at birth are at increased risk of coronary heart disease, and the disorders related to it – hypertension, diabetes and stroke.
This has led to the theory that these diseases originate through undernutrition in the womb, a theory that is strongly supported by studies in animals. Recent findings suggest that it is the people whose mothers were thin or overweight, or who ate unbalanced diets, who are at risk of developing coronary heart disease in later life. The discovery that coronary heart disease originates in utero points to the importance of protecting the nutrition and health of young women, before and during pregnancy, as part of the strategy to prevent the disease. It is leading to new public health policies both in western countries and the developing world. Professor Barker is a Fellow of the Royal Society.