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21 December 2010
Childhood diet affects adult fertility
by George Atkinson

The reproductive success of men and women is influenced by the food they receive at an early stage in life, according to a new University of Sheffield study appearing in the journal Ecology. The research shows that food in the infant years can have a significant influence on the life-long fertility of individuals.

Lead researcher Ian Rickard 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 to complete the study.

His work shows 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. These results have implications for our understanding of early environmental effects on human health and will help shed light on our current understanding of fertility and whether it is influenced by individual or social factors," said Rickard.

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Source: The University of Sheffield

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