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Early life programming as a target for prevention of child and adolescent mental disorders

Andrew James Lewis1*, Megan Galbally2, Tara Gannon1 and Christos Symeonides3

Author Affiliations

1 School of Psychology, Faculty of Health, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia

2 Department of Perinatal Mental Health, Mercy Hospital for Women, Melbourne, Australia

3 Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Melbourne, Australia

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BMC Medicine 2014, 12:33  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-12-33

Published: 24 February 2014


This paper concerns future policy development and programs of research for the prevention of mental disorders based on research emerging from fetal and early life programming. The current review offers an overview of findings on pregnancy exposures such as maternal mental health, lifestyle factors, and potential teratogenic and neurotoxic exposures on child outcomes. Outcomes of interest are common child and adolescent mental disorders including hyperactive, behavioral and emotional disorders. This literature suggests that the preconception and perinatal periods offer important opportunities for the prevention of deleterious fetal exposures. As such, the perinatal period is a critical period where future mental health prevention efforts should be focused and prevention models developed. Interventions grounded in evidence-based recommendations for the perinatal period could take the form of public health, universal and more targeted interventions. If successful, such interventions are likely to have lifelong effects on (mental) health.

Child and adolescent mental health; Developmental origins (DOHaD); Fetal programming; Maternal mental health; Obesity; Prevention; Teterogenic exposures