Washington: Undernutrition, particularly in the adolescent years, increases the risk of coronary heart disease in later life, a new study has shown.
The research provides the first direct evidence that acute undernutrition during the time that children are growing up can have an important impact on their future health.
The study authors, from the University Medical Center Utrecht and the University of Amsterdam, investigated 7845 women who lived through the famine at the end of World War II.
The researchers recruited the women to the study between 1993-1997 through a breast cancer-screening programme, and followed them up to the end of 2007.
They found that, compared with unexposed women, the risk of coronary heart disease was slightly higher overall for women who had been moderately exposed to the famine, and significantly higher among those who had been severely exposed.
Women who were aged between 10-17 at the start of the famine and who had been severely exposed to it, had a statistically significant 38 percent increased risk of coronary heart disease in later life, whereas those who had been moderately exposed had no increased risk compared with the unexposed women.
After adjusting for factors that could confound the results, such as age at start of the famine, smoking, and education, there was a 27 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease for the severely exposed women compared to unexposed women.
“The Dutch famine of 1944-45 is a ``natural experiment`` in history, which gave us the unique possibility to study the long-term effects of acute undernutrition during childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood in otherwise well-nourished girls and women,” write the authors of the study.
The study was recently published in the European Heart Journal.