Early-in-life eating affects fertility

U. SHEFFIELD (UK) — Eating well early in life has long term repercussions, including influencing reproductive success as adults.

The new study, the first of its kind to link early life food with life-long fertility, is published online in the journal Ecology.

Researchers used a combination of church record data on births in 18th century Finland and agricultural data on crop yields of rye and barley from the same time and place. The study showed that in men and women born into poor families, food in very early life was related to the probability of reproducing.

Approximately half of the poor people who were born in a year in which both rye and barley yields were low would not go on to have any children during their entire lives. However almost everyone from a poor family born in bumper harvest years, when both crops were high, would reproduce at least once in their life.

These results indicate that food received during prenatal or early postnatal life may limit the development of the reproductive system.

“Our results show that the food received by children born into poor families had an influence on their later reproductive success,” says Ian Rickard of the department of animal and plant sciences at the University of Sheffield.

“These results have implications for our understanding of early environmental effects on human and animal health and will help shed light on our current understanding of fertility and whether it is influenced by individual or social factors.”

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