Brains versus brawn: An empirical test of barkers brain sparing model

Jack Baker, Megan Workman, Edward Bedrick, M. Anderson Frey, Magdalena Hurtado, Osbjorn Pearson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


The Barker model of the in utero origins of diminished muscle mass in those born small invokes the adaptive "sparing" of brain tissue development at the expense of muscle. Though compelling, to date this model has not been directly tested. This article develops an allometric framework for testing the principal prediction of the Barker model-that among those born small muscle mass is sacrificed to spare brain growth-then evaluates this hypothesis using data from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). The results indicate clear support for a negative relationship between the allometric development of the two tissues; however, a further consideration of conserved mammalian fetal circulatory patterns suggests the possibility that system-constrained patterns of developmental damage and "bet-hedging" responses in affected tissues may provide a more adequate explanation of the results. Far from signaling the end of studies of adaptive developmental programming, this perspective may open a promising new avenue of inquiry within the fields of human biology and the developmental origins of health and disease. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 22:206-215, 2010.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)206-215
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Human Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology
  • Genetics


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