Commentary: The child is the mother of the woman: Intergenerational associations in maternal anthropometry

S. M. Morton
2004 International Journal of Epidemiology  
The child is the father of the man [William Wordsworth (1770-1850 Wordsworth probably never envisaged how prophetic this simple, albeit non-gender specific, statement might be in terms of succinctly summarizing the relationships that exist in anthropometric measures and reproductive outcomes across generations. The simplicity of the statement though hides the complexity of the intergenerational associations and highlights the age-old problem, put more gender specifically, of which comes
more » ... he child of the mother or the mother of the child'. Whatever the starting point or measure used for determining associations between one generation and the next, inevitably that measure will itself be the result of the cumulative biological and social influences from previous generations. There is a growing body of literature describing the intergenerational continuities in measures of size at birth, suggesting that a mother's intrauterine environment and her early development directly influence her own reproductive outcomes. This relationship was suggested over sixty years ago when a study by Kermack et al. 1 postulated that the health of adults was largely determined by their health as children, and that the health of infants was in turn dependent on the health of their mothers. Many studies followed, notably those by Baird and his colleagues, which considered the perinatal outcomes of infants born in Aberdeen, largely between 1948 and 1972 in relation to the childhood social environments of their mothers. 2-7 Their collective findings are illustrated by a comment from Baird in his 1949 article where he states that: Efficient child-bearing is influenced by many factors, but none so much as the mother herself. The mother is the product of heredity and environment, and therefore so far as possible the whole woman should be studied . . . to discover what psychological, social and physical influences affect reproductive performance and how they act. 2 Thus, the idea that reproductive success is influenced by the social environment in childhood and lifecourse growth of a mother rather than her attained maternal adult characteristics alone is not new in epidemiology, however, appropriate intergenerational data to investigate influences on growth and reproduction over a lifecourse, with quality biological and social information across several generations, have been limited until recently. 8-10
doi:10.1093/ije/dyh355 pmid:15513968 fatcat:zs6ms3lpinbd3ljsdxbdh4ervq