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Low Maternal Capital Predicts Life History Trade-Offs in Daughters: Why Adverse Outcomes Cluster in Individuals.

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Wells, Jonathan CK 
Cole, Tim J 
Cortina-Borja, Mario 
Sear, Rebecca 
Leon, David A 


Background: Some individuals appear prone to multiple adverse outcomes, including poor health, school dropout, risky behavior and early reproduction. This clustering remains poorly understood. Drawing on evolutionary life history theory, we hypothesized that maternal investment in early life would predict the developmental trajectory and adult phenotype of female offspring. Specifically, we predicted that daughters receiving low investment would prioritize the life history functions of "reproduction" and "defense" over "growth" and "maintenance," increasing the risk of several adverse outcomes. Methods: We investigated 2,091 mother-daughter dyads from a birth cohort in Pelotas, Brazil. We combined data on maternal height, body mass index, income, and education into a composite index of "maternal capital." Daughter outcomes included reproductive status at 18 years, growth, adult anthropometry, body composition, cardio-metabolic risk, educational attainment, work status, and risky behavior. We tested whether daughters' early reproduction (<18 years) and exposure to low maternal capital were associated with adverse outcomes, and whether this accounted for the clustering of adverse outcomes within individuals. Results: Daughters reproducing early were shorter, more centrally adipose, had less education and demonstrated more risky behavior compared to those not reproducing. Low maternal capital was associated with greater likelihood of the daughter reproducing early, smoking and having committed violent crime. High maternal capital was positively associated with the daughter's birth weight and adult size, and the likelihood of being in school. Associations of maternal capital with cardio-metabolic risk were inconsistent. Daughters reproducing early comprised 14.8% of the population, but accounted for 18% of obesity; 20% of violent crime, low birth weight and short stature; 32% of current smoking; and 52% of school dropout. Exposure to low maternal capital contributed similarly to the clustering of adverse outcomes among daughters. Outcomes were worst among daughters characterized by both low maternal capital and early reproduction. Conclusion: Consistent with life history theory, daughters exposed to low maternal capital demonstrate "future discounting" in behavior and physiology, prioritizing early reproduction over growth, education, and health. Trade-offs associated with low maternal capital and early reproduction contribute to clustering of adverse outcomes. Our approach provides new insight into inter-generational cycles of disadvantage.



education, growth, inter-generational effect, life history theory, maternal investment, obesity, reproduction, trade-offs

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Front Public Health

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Frontiers Media SA