|We interviewed Professor Stephen Lye about the impact of Covid-19 on the developmental origins of health and disease. Professor Lye is the Executive Director of the Fraser Mustard Institute for Human Development, University of Toronto. He is an international expert in women’s and infant’s health and pioneered investigations into the mechanisms underlying preterm birth.
Professor Lye said: “While it appears that children may not be as likely to suffer direct effects of Covid-19 infection, there are many reasons to be concerned that the pandemic may have longer term effect on the health and wellbeing of these children, as well as the children likely to be born over the next few months. Poverty, abuse and stress within families before, during and after pregnancy is known to impact developmental trajectories of children through mechanisms involving epigenetics (impacting the genetic blueprint for development in children) the effects of which that can even be past on to future generations. It is critical that we assist young women and young mothers so that they can provide care to their children that buffers them against these adverse experiences.
“A women’s health (including her nutritional status) that she takes into a pregnancy is key, not only to the success of that pregnancy, but also to the future health and cognitive development of her child. Good nutrition, including caloric intake, a balanced diet and consumption of micronutrients preconception provides a young woman with an optimal basis to support her health during pregnancy and reduce the likelihood of pregnancy complications such as preterm birth. Optimal preconception health and nutrition also supports the growth and development of her baby when she becomes pregnant and during infancy childhood. Poor nutrition preconception and during pregnancy can cause stunting of fetal growth, including brain growth and development. The developing fetal brain requires sufficient calories to provide energy for multiplication of brain cells (neurons) that underlies brain growth – indeed the majority of calories a fetus and newborn goes to support brain growth. A balanced diet (protein, lipids and micronutrients) is also essential to support the formation connections (synapses) between neurons that underlies how the brain functions, and supports sensory, language and cognitive development.