The implications of the developmental origins of health and disease on public health policy and health promotion in South Africa
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The developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD) hypothesis states that environmental influences in utero and in early life can determine health and disease in later life through the programming of genes and/or altered gene expression. The DOHaD is likely to have had an effect in South Africa during the fifty years of apartheid; and during the twenty years since the dawn of democracy in 1994. This has profound implications for public health and health promotion policies in South Africa, a country experiencing increased prevalence of noncommunicable diseases
(NCDs) and risk factors and behaviours for NCDs due to rapid social and economic transition, and because of the DOHaD. Public health policy and health promotion interventions, such as those introduced by the South African Government over the past 20 years, were designed to improve the health of pregnant women (and their unborn children). They could in addition, through the DOHaD mechanism, reduce NCDs and their risk factors in their offspring in later life. The quality of publichealth data over the past 40 years in South Africa precludes the possibility of proving the DOHaD hypothesis in that context. Nevertheless, public health and health promotion policies need to be strengthened, if South Africa and other low and middle income countries (LMICs) are to avoid the very high prevalence of NCDs seen in Europe and North America in the 50 years following the Second World War, as a result of socio economic transition and the DOHaD.