The Dutch famine of 1944-45 as a human laboratory: changes in the early life environment and adult health

L.H. Lumey, F.W.A. van Poppel

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Abstract

Studies of men and women exposed to the Dutch famine of 1944-1945 (also known as the Dutch ‘Hunger winter’) during different periods of life are important because they provide an opportunity to look at long-term effects of disturbances in the early life environment. For ethical and practical reasons, such studies could not otherwise be carried out in humans. At the time of the Dutch famine, civilian starvation was caused by conditions of war and the impact can be documented of extreme changes in nutrition not normally seen in human populations. We present an overview of studies conducted on the Dutch famine using military examination records, psychiatric hospital records, population surveys, and famine birth cohorts followed to the present day, for medical examinations and DNA analysis. Of all reported outcomes, associations between prenatal famine and adult body size, diabetes, and schizophrenia show the most consistent pattern. For other outcomes, the pattern is more variable and inconsistent. There are also associations between prenatal famine and long-lasting epigenetic changes in DNA regulation. These need replication but could provide a potential mechanism to explain other observations.
Original languageUndefined
Title of host publicationEarly life nutrition and adult health and development
EditorsL.H. Lumey, A. Vaiserman
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherNova Science Publishers
Pages59-76
ISBN (Print)978 1 62417 129 1
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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