The incidence of the metabolic syndrome, a cluster of abnormalities focusing on insulin resistance and associated with high risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, is reaching epidemic proportions. Prevalent in both developed and developing countries, the metabolic syndrome has largely been attributed to altered dietary and lifestyle factors that favour the development of central obesity. However, population-based studies have suggested that predisposition to the metabolic syndrome may be acquired very early in development through inappropriate fetal or neonatal nutrition. Further evidence for developmental programming of the metabolic syndrome has now been suggested by animal studies in which the fetal environment has been manipulated through altered maternal dietary intake or modification of uterine artery blood flow. This review examines these studies and assesses whether the metabolic syndrome can be reliably induced by the interventions made. The validity of the different species, diets, feeding regimes and end-point measures used is also discussed.
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