Good Health in Middle Age - Genes, Lifestyle or Our Mother’s Health
Tuesday September 19th 2006, 11:09 am

Everyone wants to stay young looking and healthy as they get older, especially us baby boomers who are looking for the fountain of youth. Why do some people live to a good and healthy old age with very little illness and others have numerous health problems throughout their life and don’t live to an old age. You would guess it depends on your genes and lifestyle but there is another theory that the health of the mother while pregnant determines the health of the child throughout their life.

Apparently what happens during fetal life and the first two years of life has a permanent and lasting effect on your health. A study was done which included North America and several European countries. During the Second World War during the Dutch famine which lasted from November 1944 to May 1945, women were eating 400 to 800 calories a day. A sixth of the babies born during that time died before birth or shortly afterwards but those who survived seemed fine and their birth weights were normal. These babies are now reaching late middle age and they are getting chronic diseases at a much higher rate than normal. Their heart disease rate is almost triple that of people born before or after the famine. They have more diabetes and more kidney disease. The theory is that a baby born to a pregnant woman who is starved or ill may start life with a predisposition to diseases that do not emerge until middle age. This type of study was done in several other countries with the same results.

Something that wasn’t mentioned in the study, is if a woman smoked during pregnancy and for the first two years of life of the child, would this determine whether the child would be more prone to getting cancer or other diseases later in life. Smoking was very common for woman in the 1950’s and 1960’s when the baby boomers were born. Could this be one of the reasons for the high incidence of cancer in middle aged people who have never smoked.

Yesterday my husband and I went on our daily walk and decided to go to a cemetery which isn’t far from our neighbourhood. It is very peaceful there and I visited the gravesites of two of my former co-workers who died a few years ago and are buried there. One of them was a man who was born in Holland in 1946. He was in very good shape and bicycled to work everyday from April to December. He was an example of what every middle aged person should be doing to live to a healthy old age and everyone admired him for this. A few years ago, when he was only 54 years old, he dropped dead of a heart attack. There was no warning that he even had a heart problem, although his sister who was also born in Holland during the war died of a heart attack a few years previously. He did everything right but maybe it was predetermined by the health of his mother when he was born that he wouldn’t live beyond middle age.

Past generations expected to develop chronic diseases by their forties or fifties. In past centuries most people were smaller, weaker and more sickly than they are today. Researchers are saying that over the past 100 years, humans in the industrialized world have undergone “a form of evolution that is unique not only to humankind, but unique among the 7,000 or so generations of humans who have ever inhabited the earth”. Today we are bigger and healthier and diseases such as heart disease, lung disease and arthritis are occurring on average 10 to 25 years later than they used to. Human bodies are not breaking down the way they did before. There were people in previous generations who lived long and healthy lives but the changes are huge. Early life for most boomers was much better than it was for their parents and boomers are the first generation to grow up with vaccines and antibiotics and better nutrition in their early years.

One of the problems we have today is the amount of trans fats in the processed food we eat everyday without realizing it. The government is now forcing food processors and fast food restaurants to reduce the trans fats in the products they sell which is about time. Most people eat too much processed and junk food which is high in fat and carbohydrates. It is fast and tastes good but at what cost. People think they are too busy to take the time to make a nourishing meal. If today’s youth continue on their path of eating junk food and spending their days in front of the computer and television instead of spending time outside in the fresh air, the trend may start reversing itself. The next generations may not have a healthy middle age even through their mothers were healthy during pregnancy, their first two years were healthy and healthy food choices are better than they ever were. This month the schools in our area are starting to encourage healthy eating by selling only healthy food in the schools. There is more publicity about healthy food choices for children and everyone now which is step in the right direction. I hope everyone hears the message.

Anne