Purdue University Graduate School
Robertson Thesis 110721.pdf (2.95 MB)

Prenatal Pathways to Early Puberty: Testing the Thrifty Phenotype and Fetal Overnutrition Hypotheses

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posted on 2021-11-08, 02:53 authored by Olivia C RobertsonOlivia C Robertson

This thesis outlined a novel operationalization and extension of the thrifty phenotype and fetal overnutrition hypotheses, two evolutionary developmental hypotheses stemming from the developmental origins of health and disease perspective, for developmental pathways from prenatal risk through child growth to early puberty. Support has accumulated for both, but previous studies have not clearly determined which hypothesis better predicts early puberty. Using the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (n=4898), the thrifty phenotype and fetal overnutrition pathways were tested against each other, separately by sex, and race/ethnicity for adrenal, and gonadal pubertal markers. Results indicated that in general, both hypotheses were supported. Contrary to hypotheses, the thrifty phenotype pathway did not predict perceived pubertal timing better in boys and the fetal overnutrition pathway did not predict perceived pubertal timing best in girls. Instead, both pathways predicted puberty equally well between girls and boys and the fetal overnutrition pathway stemming from maternal gestational weight gain was stronger than the pre-pregnancy BMI pathway. Individual paths of the hypothesized pathways were generally supported when analyzed by race/ethnicity group separately, but support for the entire pathways were sparse. Implications of this work are that pubertal timing may be similarly programmed by restrictive and overnutrition prenatal risks, both should be prioritized, and that interventions for maternal gestational weight should be prioritized over interventions for pre-pregnancy BMI for reducing rates of early puberty.


Degree Type

  • Master of Science


  • Human Development and Family Studies

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Kristine Marceau

Additional Committee Member 2

Valerie Knopik

Additional Committee Member 3

Kameron Moding

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