Prenatal Programming of Developmental Trajectories for Obesity Risk and Early Pubertal Timing

Olivia C. Robertson, Kristine Marceau, Robert J. Duncan, Elizabeth A. Shirtcliff, Leslie D. Leve, Daniel S. Shaw, Misaki Natsuaki, Jenae M. Neiderhiser, Jody M. Ganiban

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The thrifty phenotype and fetal overnutrition hypotheses are two developmental hypotheses that originated from the developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD) perspective. The DOHaD posits that exposures experienced prenatally and early in life may influence health outcomes through altering form and function of internal organs related to metabolic processes. Obesity risk and early pubertal timing might be influenced by similarmechanisms. The thrifty phenotype hypothesis is primarily characterized by experiencing a deprivation of nutrients during gestation paired with an energy rich postnatal environment. The fetal overnutrition hypothesis says that obesity experienced prenatally will be associated with increased lifetime risk of obesity in the offspring. Both hypotheses were tested by examining developmental pathways from genetic and prenatal risk through early growth trajectories (birth to 7 years) to pubertal timing at age 11 years. Participants included 361 children adopted at birth (57% male; 57% non-Hispanic White, 11% Black, 9% Hispanic; adoptive family income Mdn = $70,000–$100,000, birth family income Mdn = <$15,000). Associations between boys’ childhood body mass index (BMI) and pubertal timing were confounded by genetics, prenatal risk, and early growth. The thrifty phenotype hypothesis was partially supported for boys’ childhood BMI (at ages 4 to 7 years). Both hypotheses were partially supported for girls’ childhood BMI but not pubertal timing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1817-1831
Number of pages15
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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