Background: To clarify the nature of the relationship between: food deprivation and undernutrition during pre- and postnatal development; and cholesterol levels in later life, this study examined the relationship between birth weight (as a marker of prenatal nutrition) and cholesterol levels among 396 Guernsey islanders (born in 1923-1937), 87 of whom (22%) had been exposed to food deprivation as children, adolescents or young adults (i.e. to postnatal undernutrition) during the 1940-45 German occupation of the Channel Islands, and 309 of whom (78%) had left or been evacuated from the islands before the occupation began.
Methods: Three sets of multiple regression models were used to investigate: Model A - the relationship between birth weight and cholesterol levels; Model B - the relationship between postnatal exposure to the occupation and cholesterol levels; and Model C - any interaction between birth weight, postnatal exposure to the occupation and cholesterol levels. Model A and Model B also tested for any interactions between: birth weight/occupation exposure and sex; and birth weight/occupation exposure and parish of residence at birth (as a marker of parish of residence during the occupation and related variation in the severity of food deprivation).
Results: Before (and after) adjusting for potential confounders, no statistically significant relationships were observed between either birth weight (before adjustment: 0.09 mmol/l per kg increase, 95% CI: -0.30, 0.16; after adjustment: 0.08 mmol/l per kg increase, 95%CI: -0.17, 0.34) or exposure to the occupation (before adjustment: 0.01 mmol/l for exposed group, 95%CI: -0.24, 0.27; after adjustment: 0.04 mmol/l for exposed group, 95%CI: -0.26, 0.33) and cholesterol levels in later life. There was also little evidence of significant relationships between birth weight, exposure to the occupation and cholesterol levels in later life when Model A and Model B were stratified by sex or parish of residence at birth, although there was a significant positive relationship between birth weight and cholesterol levels in women (0.44 mmol/l per kg increase, 95%CI: 0.07, 0.81).
Conclusions: These analyses provide little support for the theory that birth weight is inversely related to cholesterol levels in later life. and do not offer any evidence in support of a relationship between undernutrition in childhood, adolescence and early adulthood and cholesterol levels in later life. However, further research may determine whether undernutrition at different stages of the life-course may influence cholesterol levels in later life.