A couple of hundred health experts gathered at the Nutrition of Girls and Women conference in Portland on Thursday to discuss the generational effects of poor nutrition on women of child-bearing age.
Most of us understand we inherit our genes from our parents. But what scientists now know is that those genes can be turned on and off by environmental factors, such as stress and what a person eats.
Dr. Kent Thornburg, director of the Moore Institute for Nutrition and Wellness, told conference attendees that environment is particularly important for women of child-bearing age — to the point where their zip code may be more important to their health than their genetic code.
"During development, before you're born, that's when you're more susceptible to environmental changes like nutrition and stress from your mother," he said.
"That changes your genes and that can last for the rest of your life," he added.
The head of the Oregon Health Authority, Lynne Saxton, told the conference she's worked with children who are a foot short for their age because of poor nutrition. And while the state has expanded tax credits and opened new food pantries, she said, more work is needed.