Prenatal exposure to the Dutch famine and disease in later life: an overview

Reprod Toxicol. 2005 Sep-Oct;20(3):345-52. doi: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2005.04.005.


Low birth weight is associated with cardiovascular disease in adulthood. Poor maternal nutrition during gestation contributes to low birth weight. In this paper, we review the findings from a cohort of 2414 people, aged 50 years, born as term singletons around the time of the 1944-1945 Dutch famine, of which 912 people participated in an interview and 741 subjects were also available for hospital examination. We found more coronary heart disease, raised lipids, altered clotting and more obesity after exposure to famine in early gestation compared to those not exposed to the famine. Exposure in mid gestation was associated with obstructive airways disease and microalbuminuria. We found decreased glucose tolerance in people exposed to famine in late gestation. These findings show that maternal undernutrition during gestation has important effects on health in later life, but that the timing of the nutritional insult determines which organ system is affected. Future research should shed more light upon the underlying pathophysiology of the far-reaching effects of prenatal exposure to famine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyperlipidemias
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Nutrition Disorders / complications
  • Nutrition Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / epidemiology*
  • Pregnancy Complications / etiology
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Starvation*