Overweight and obesity in young men after famine exposure in utero and early infancy: A re-examination

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Abstract

Background
In 1976, researchers reported that young men are more likely to be obese after famine exposure in utero. The findings were based on examinations at military induction of men in the Netherlands who had been exposed to the Dutch famine of 1944-1945. We had the opportunity to re-examine the relation between prenatal famine exposure and height and weight at age 18-19 with current definitions for being overweight or obese and with modern analytic methods.
Methods and findings
We used height and weight information from 408,015 men in the Netherlands born between 1943-1947 and examined for military service at age 18-19. This group includes men with and without prenatal exposure to the Dutch famine of 1944-1945. We found that the odds for being overweight at age 18 were significantly elevated (OR=1.56; CI 1.23 to 1.97) among sons of manual workers born in the famine cities. Contrary to findings in the 1976 publication, no increase was seen among sons of non-manual workers born in the famine cities. This may reflect more limited access to food by poorer populations exposed to the famine period. The increase was limited to men exposed to famine during early gestation. The risk of obesity in this group was also elevated although the prevalence of obesity (0.4%) was low.
Conclusions
We show increases in being overweight at age 18 after prenatal famine in the
Netherlands among sons of manual workers. Further studies are needed to examine the impact of these weight changes as a possible mediator of famine effects on later morbidity and mortality. The underlying mechanisms of these observations need further clarification.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019

Keywords

  • overweight
  • obesity
  • famine exposure
  • men

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