Background: To clarify the nature of the relationship between food deprivation/undernutrition during pre- and postnatal development and cardiovascular disease (CVD) in later life, this study examined the relationship between birth weight (as a marker of prenatal nutrition) and the incidence of hospital admissions for CVD from 1997-2005 amongst 873 Guernsey islanders (born in 1923-1937), 225 of whom had been exposed to food deprivation as children, adolescents or young adults (i.e. postnatal undernutrition) during the 1940-45 German occupation of the Channel Islands, and 648 of whom had left or been evacuated from the islands before the occupation began.
Methods: Three sets of Cox regression models were used to investigate (A) the relationship between birth weight and CVD, (B) the relationship between postnatal exposure to the occupation and CVD and (C) any interaction between birth weight, postnatal exposure to the occupation and CVD. These models also tested for any interactions between birth weight and sex, and postnatal exposure to the occupation and parish of residence at birth (as a marker of parish residence during the occupation and related variation in the severity of food deprivation).
Results: The first set of models (A) found no relationship between birth weight and CVD even after adjustment for potential confounders (hazard ratio (HR) per kg increase in birth weight: 1.12; 95% confidence intervals (CI): 0.70-1.78), and there was no significant interaction between birth weight and sex (p=0.60). The second set of models (B) found a significant relationship between postnatal exposure to the occupation and CVD after adjustment for potential confounders (HR for exposed vs. unexposed group: 2.52; 95% CI: 1.54-4.13), as well as a significant interaction between postnatal exposure to the occupation and parish of residence at birth (p=0.01), such that those born in urban parishes (where food deprivation was worst) had a greater HR for CVD than those born in rural parishes. The third model (C) found no interaction between birth weight and exposure to the occupation (p=0.43).
Conclusion: These findings suggest that the levels of postnatal undernutrition experienced by children, adolescents and young adults exposed to food deprivation during the 1940-45 occupation of the Channel Islands were a more important determinant of CVD in later life than the levels of prenatal undernutrition experienced in utero prior to the occupation.