Cardiovascular health of Finnish war evacuees 60 years later

Ann Med. 2009;41(1):66-72. doi: 10.1080/07853890802301983.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety, Separation / epidemiology
  • Anxiety, Separation / psychology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology
  • Emigration and Immigration*
  • Female
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / epidemiology
  • Life Change Events*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Maternal Deprivation
  • Middle Aged
  • Paternal Deprivation
  • Prevalence
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Time Factors
  • World War II*