Early Life: The Key to Preventing Lifelong Physical and Mental Disease
Cursus informatieRooster
Studiepunten (ECTS)2
CategorieB2 (Tweede jaar bachelor)
Aangeboden doorRadboud Universiteit; Faculteit der Medische Wetenschappen; Geneeskunde;
C.M. Bruinhof, MSc
Overige cursussen docent
L.C. Michel
Overige cursussen docent
prof. dr. C. de Weerth
Overige cursussen docent
Contactpersoon van de cursus
prof. dr. C. de Weerth
Overige cursussen docent
VKO-SEM1  (05-09-2022 t/m 05-02-2023)
OpmerkingDoelgroep GNK - BMW - THK
K2: vrijdagochtend
Inschrijven via OSIRISJa
Inschrijven voor bijvakkersNee
PlaatsingsprocedureOp basis van loting
ToelichtingOp basis van loting
After completing this course the student will:
  1. be able to critically analyze recent literature on the course subjects by reflecting on the literature, drawing his/her own conclusions, and commenting on them in writing and orally.
  2. have knowledge and understanding of the effects of early environment and experience on longterm physical and mental development, the (biological) processes underlying these effects, and the possibilities to prevent negative health outcomes by early caregiving and preventive interventions;
  3. be able to communicate a preventive message for specific stakeholders in early life development in an innovative, goal-directed, and efficient manner
 The prenatal and early postnatal years are a time during which neurobiological and behavioral development proceeds at a breathtaking pace. Development in this period is highly sensitive to environmental influence. There is increasing evidence that early environment and experiences, both prenatal and postnatal, importantly shape long-term physical and mental health outcomes. This course focuses on the effects of early experience on physical and mental development and health. Special attention is given to the quality of the early environment, which can range from high quality nutrition and care, to harsher environments such as those of preterm infants, or infants receiving poorer diet and care. The quality of the early environment plays a key role in the development of resilience to stress, as well as in the emergence of physical pathologies such as obesity and psychopathologies such as depression.

The course looks at psychobiological processes in the prenatal and postnatal development and covers a range of topics: stress, prematurity, parent-child interaction, fathers, attachment, colic (excessive crying), neglect and abuse. Lectures and literature include a series of biological markers and mechanisms that are thought to underlie the effects of the environment on the child’s physical and mental health, such as epigenetic processes, telomere length, breast milk composition, and gut microbiota.

Examples of questions to be addressed in this context are: Do stress, depression, and anxiety during pregnancy affect fetal development? Is the key to understanding the worldwide epidemic of noncommunicable diseases found in early life? Is it possible to reduce a preterm infant’s stress and positively affect his/her health? How and by what processes do early parent-infant interactions and attachment affect later health? How does stress in early life get ‘under the skin’? Do gut bacteria affect the development of the brain?

The course also includes an assignment on prevention and communication, in which students use short films and bite-size messages to communicate research findings on one of the topics covered in the lectures to stakeholders of choice. The goal is to share knowledge that can be key in preventing future physical and mental health problems in an efficient manner.


Leerdoel (1)
Individual weekly assignments: submitting 6 discussion points (compulsory and each rewarded with maximum of 1.67 points of the final grade, for a total of 10 points) and assistance to lectures.

Before every meeting students have to read the two papers assigned for that week and then submit 1 discussion point via Brightspace on one of the two papers. By submitting high quality weekly assignments, a maximum of 10 points can be earned for the final grade. Anonymized discussion points are used to discuss the literature with students during the lectures.

The discussion points are only accepted and graded if they are in English and submitted before the weekly deadline.

What is a good quality discussion point?
The discussion point should not be self-evident or superficial, so that it cannot be answered simply by reading the paper. It should be clear that the student has read the whole paper carefully and has thought about it. This can be demonstrated by adding a (short) explanation to the discussion point. As explained in the rubric, the grading of the discussion points is based on their quality. Examples of good and bad points will be given in the course manual.

Leerdoelen (2) and (3)
Group final assignment: making a 1-minute film with a preventive message based on the content of the lectures and the papers that were discussed (compulsory and rewarded with a maximum of 10 points of the final grade).

To make the film the student groups first need to choose a message (e.g. ‘shaking a baby can lead to brain damage’, ‘elective C-section is related to different microbial gut colonization’, ‘skin-to-skin contact leads to better health outcomes in preterm infants’, etc.) and a stakeholder group (e.g. parents, family physicians, neonatologists, nurses, midwives, policy-makers, etc.). They will then make a film with a preventive message that is based on scientific research. The film can have a humorous element or not, be animated or acted, in Dutch or English, color or black-and-white; in sum: students are free to choose what they think will work best. Students will have 4 weeks for this assignment.

What are the criteria for a good quality film?

1) The message of the film is clear and to the point and can be easily remembered.
2) The film has a good fit with the intended target group.
3) The film immediately catches the attention so that the viewer does not scroll away.
4) The film is around 1 minute long, and never longer than 2 minutes (type: TikTok, Instagram, WhatsApp film).
5) The content is based on scientific research; a reference list is presented separately.
6) The goal of the film is for the stakeholder group to change their behavior in a positive way that contributes to prevention of physical or psychological problems in the fetus/infant and later in life. The film is expected to induce this change.

The final grade for the course is the mean of the grade for the individual weekly assignments and the grade for the group final assignment.

Module opzet (2EC)

Teaching methods.
The first 6 meetings consist of a general lecture on the topic of that week. During the lecture, the assigned literature for that week is discussed, based on the discussion points submitted by the students before the meeting. In a final, 7th meeting, students will present their group assignment films and will all digitally assign points for each film. A winning film will be chosen based on this voting system. During the lecture all films will be discussed to learn about how preventive messages can best be brought over to society.
All 7 course meetings are compulsory. Students need to have attended the 6 lectures to be admitted to the group final assignment. If a student is unexpectedly unable to attend a lecture, this must be communicated beforehand to the coordinator via email.


Six weekly lectures (interactive, including discussions on weekly literature and assignments), plus a 7th lecture (at the end of the period) for presenting and discussing the group final assignment.

Rubrics for examination
The final grade is the mean of the two examination activities: a) the individual weekly assignments (max 10 points) and b) the group final assignment (max 10 points). The score on each of these parts should be at least 6.
a) Only points submitted in English and before the weekly deadline will be accepted and graded. Weekly individual assignments (N=6; maximum of 10 points for all assignments: 6 x 1.67 = 10.02, rounded off to 10)
Quality of discussion point Self-evident, or unclear, unstructured, superficial point, shows lack of reflection 0.80 Shows reflection on the paper, clearly  and succinctly written 1.20 Elaborated, well-structured point showing high understanding of the paper; very well and succinctly written 1.67

b) Final group assignment (N=1; maximum of 10 points for this assignment)
Film message Not so clear, difficult to remember 0.7 Clear, to the point, and can be easily remembered 1.4 Extremely clear, to the point, and very difficult to forget 2
Film target group Film does not fit intended stakeholder group well 0.7 Film tailored to  intended stakeholder group 1.4 Film expected to be precisely right for the intended stakeholder group 2
Film visuals and audio Not so successful; viewers may tend to scroll away 0.7 Attractive; immediately catches the attention; viewers will most probably watch the whole film 1.4 Extremely attractive visuals and audio; catches the attention from the very beginning; viewer very unlikely to scroll away 2
Film duration Significantly shorter or longer than 1 minute 0.5     1 minute long 1
Film scientific basis Shaky scientific basis; very few references and from single studies (poor reference list presented separately) 0.7 Firmly based on scientific research, including some reviews or meta-analyses (good reference list is presented separately) 1.4 Strong scientific basis, high quality reviews and meta-analyses included (excellent reference list is presented separately) 2
Film success in changing behavior Not expected to bring about a behavioral change in the target group 0.4 Expected to be moderately successful in inducing a positive behavioral change in the target group 0.7 Expected to be highly successful in inducing a positive behavioral change in the target group 1


GelegenhedenBlok VKO-SEM1, Blok VKO-SEM2