Health and development from preconception to 20 years of age and human capital

Document Type

Review Article


Paediatrics and Child Health; Women and Child Health


Optimal health and development from preconception to adulthood are crucial for human flourishing and the formation of human capital. The Nurturing Care Framework, as adapted to age 20 years, conceptualises the major influences during periods of development from preconception, through pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence that affect human capital. In addition to mortality in children younger than 5 years, stillbirths and deaths in 5-19-year-olds are important to consider. The global rate of mortality in individuals younger than 20 years has declined substantially since 2000, yet in 2019 an estimated 8·6 million deaths occurred between 28 weeks of gestation and 20 years of age, with more than half of deaths, including stillbirths, occurring before 28 days of age. The 1000 days from conception to 2 years of age are especially influential for human capital. The prevalence of low birthweight is high in sub-Saharan Africa and even higher in south Asia. Growth faltering, especially from birth to 2 years, occurs in most world regions, whereas overweight increases in many regions from the preprimary school period through adolescence. Analyses of cohort data show that growth trajectories in early years of life are strong determinants of nutritional outcomes in adulthood. The accrual of knowledge and skills is affected by health, nutrition, and home resources in early childhood and by educational opportunities in older children and adolescents. Linear growth in the first 2 years of life better predicts intelligence quotients in adults than increases in height in older children and adolescents. Learning-adjusted years of schooling range from about 4 years in sub-Saharan Africa to about 11 years in high-income countries. Human capital depends on children and adolescents surviving, thriving, and learning until adulthood.


Lancet (London, England)