Life course perspective: evidence for the role of nutrition
The “Life Course Perspective” proposes that environmental exposures, including biological, physical, social, and behavioral factors, as well as life experiences, throughout the entire life span, influence health outcomes in current and future generations. Nutrition, from preconception to adulthood, encompasses all of these factors and has the potential to positively or negatively shape the individual or population health trajectories and their intergenerational differences. This paper applies the T2E2 model (timing, timeline, equity and environment), developed by Fine and Kotelchuck, as an overlay to examine advances in nutritional science, as well as the complex associations between life stages, nutrients, nutrigenomics, and access to healthy foods, that support the life course perspective. Examples of the application of nutrition to each of the four constructs are provided, as well as a strong recommendation for inclusion of nutrition as a key focal point for all health professionals as they address solutions to optimize health outcomes, both domestically and internationally. The science of nutrition provides strong evidence to support the concepts of the life course perspective. These findings lend urgency to the need to improve population health across the life span and over generations by ensuring ready access to micronutrient-dense foods, opportunities to balance energy intake with adequate physical activity and the need for biological, social, physical, and macro-level environments that support critical phases of human development. Recommendations for the application of the life course perspective, with a focus on the emerging knowledge of nutritional science, are offered in an effort to improve current maternal and child health programs, policies, and service delivery.