Life history theory proposes that early-life cues induce highly integrated responses in traits associated with energy partitioning, maturation, reproduction, and aging such that the individual phenotype is adaptively more appropriate to the anticipated environment. Thus, maternal and/or neonatally derived nutritional or endocrine cues suggesting a threatening environment may favour early growth and reproduction over investment in tissue reserve and repair capacity. These may directly affect longevity, as well as prioritise insulin resistance and capacity for fat storage, thereby increasing susceptibility to metabolic dysfunction and obesity. These shifts in developmental trajectory are associated with long-term expression changes in specific genes, some of which may be underpinned by epigenetic processes. This normative process of developmental plasticity may prove to be maladaptive in human environments in transition towards low extrinsic mortality and energy-dense nutrition, leading to the development of an inappropriate phenotype with decreased potential for longevity and/or increased susceptibility to metabolic disease.