Worldwide, the prevalence of overweight and obesity has increased and in the last decades reached epidemic levels. Exposure to stress during foetal life may programme susceptibility to obesity in an obesogenic environment and may be one of the many possible explanations for the obesity epidemic.
The overall aim of this thesis is in epidemiological and biological settings to evaluate the association between exposure to different levels of stress early in life and the development of body weight in the offspring, including overweight and obesity.
The data sources utilised were a questionnaire survey conducted in all the five Nordic countries (NordChild), a birth cohort established in Aarhus in 1989 (ABC), and registers. Using these population-based observational designs, the following were studied: children exposed to parental separation at time of the study or before the birth (moderate common level of stress), young male conscripts born to mothers who experienced prenatal bereavement (severe level of stress), and women with measurement of saliva cortisol during pregnancy and their offspring (biological indicator of stress).