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Prenatal Undernutrition, Postnatal Environments, and Antibody Response to Vaccination in Adolescence


McDade, Thomas W.; Beck, Melinda A.; Kuzawa, Christopher; & Adair, Linda S. (2001). Prenatal Undernutrition, Postnatal Environments, and Antibody Response to Vaccination in Adolescence. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 74(4), 543-548.


Background: Recently, researchers have considered the fetal and infant origins of several adult cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, but the implications of early events for immune function and infectious disease are unclear. Objective: We investigated the association between prenatal undernutrition and immunocompetence in adolescence and hypothesized that intrauterine growth retardation is associated with a lower likelihood of mounting an adequate antibody response later in life. Design: A subsample of one hundred three 14–15-y-olds was recruited from an ongoing longitudinal study in which data collection began while participants were in utero. A typhoid vaccine was given, and anti-typhoid antibodies were measured 2 wk and 3 mo later as a functional marker of immunocompetence. The likelihood of mounting an adequate antibody response was compared for adolescents who were small for gestational age or appropriate for gestational age at birth while controlling for a range of postnatal exposures. Results: The predicted probability of mounting a positive antibody response for adolescents who were prenatally and currently undernourished was 0.32, compared with probabilities of 0.49–0.70 for adequately nourished adolescents (P = 0.023). Diarrhea in the first year of life (P = 0.009) and fast weight gain during the first 6 mo (P = 0.003) were also associated with a higher probability of response. Conclusions: These findings extend the concept of fetal and early infant programming of adult diseases to the immune system and suggest that early environments may have long-term implications for immunocompetence and infectious disease risk, particularly in developing countries.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition


McDade, Thomas W.
Beck, Melinda A.
Kuzawa, Christopher
Adair, Linda S.