Background: Early life experiences might have long-term effects on health.
Aim: To assess prevalence of cardiovascular disease and diabetes in later life among individuals exposed to traumatic separation in early childhood due to World War II.
Methods: Of the participants of the Helsinki Birth Cohort 1934-44 Study (n=2003), 320 had been evacuated abroad to temporary foster care in childhood. The remaining participants served as controls. The mean age at evacuation was 4.8 (SD=2.4) years and the mean duration of the evacuation was 1.7 (SD=1.0) years.
Results: Cardiovascular morbidity was higher among the former war evacuees (14.7% versus 7.9%; odds ratio (OR)=2.0, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.4-2.9; P<0.001). A similar difference in prevalence of type 2 diabetes was observed (19.7% versus 14.8%; OR=1.4, 95% CI 1.1-1.9, P=0.025). The former war evacuees were also more likely to be hypertensive (P<0.05). The effects on morbidity were not explained by age at testing or socio-economic circumstances in childhood or adulthood.
Conclusion: Early life traumatic events may extend lifelong effects on health. This study is among the first to show that early life trauma predicts higher prevalence of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes in late adulthood, in a longitudinal clinical study setting.