Genetic programming through foetal starvation in chronically under-developed region of Sunderban, India: foetal origin hypothesis versus predictive adaptive response

Zakir Husain, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur
Mousumi Dutta, Presidency University

Despite India’s impressive growth performance, malnutrition has remained a major challenge before policy makers. While studies have focused on the impact of nutritional deficiency of the mother on the birth outcome, the foetal origin hypothesis argues that nutritional deficiency at the foetal stage may have a more long term effect on physical development of the child and increase probability of having cardiac problems, diabetes, etc. in middle age. In contrast, the Predictive Adaptive Response (PAR) theory argues that if nutrition deficiency persists in the post-foetal stage, then such persons will be fitter than persons exposed to a nutrition shock only at the foetal stage. In other words, PAR claims that the compatibility between genetic programming at the foetal stage and post-foetal environment is important. The two hypotheses are compared based on a primary survey of 450 youths aged between 18-22 years and their mothers in the chronically backward region of Sunderban, India, undertaken between July 2014 and April 2015. The survey was undertaken in two stages. In the first stage, Muslim women with children currently aged 18--22 years were identified and a recall test administered to test reliability of recall. Information was sought on whether the Ramadan fast coincided with the conception period and whether the respondent had kept the Ramadan fast during conception. In the second stage, the children were surveyed and their anthropometric measurements taken. In all 27 indicators (height, weight, fat composition, muscle composition, etc.) were studied. The study group comprised of those exposed to Ramadan fasting at the foetal stage, while the remaining children comprises the control group. Econometric analysis found that anthropometric development of the study group was "better" than that of the control group. This provides some evidence that the PAR theory may be valid.

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 Presented in Session P3. Poster Session 3