Transgenerational effects of prenatal exposure to the 1944-45 Dutch famine

BJOG. 2013 Apr;120(5):548-53. doi: 10.1111/1471-0528.12136. Epub 2013 Jan 24.


Objective: We previously showed that maternal under-nutrition during gestation is associated with increased metabolic and cardiovascular disease in the offspring. Also, we found increased neonatal adiposity among the grandchildren of women who had been undernourished during pregnancy. In the present study we investigated whether these transgenerational effects have led to altered body composition and poorer health in adulthood in the grandchildren.

Design: Historical cohort study.

Setting: Web-based questionnaire.

Population: The adult offspring (F2) of a cohort of men and women (F1) born around the time of the 1944-45 Dutch famine.

Methods: We approached the F2 adults through their parents. Participating F2 adults (n = 360, mean age 37 years) completed an online questionnaire.

Main outcome measures: Weight, body mass index (BMI), and health in F2 adults, according to F1 prenatal famine exposure.

Results: Adult offspring (F2) of prenatally exposed F1 fathers had higher weights and BMIs than offspring of prenatally unexposed F1 fathers (+4.9 kg, P = 0.03; +1.6 kg/m(2), P = 0.006). No such effect was found for the F2 offspring of prenatally exposed F1 mothers. We observed no differences in adult health between the F2 generation groups.

Conclusions: Offspring of prenatally undernourished fathers, but not mothers, were heavier and more obese than offspring of fathers and mothers who had not been undernourished prenatally. We found no evidence of transgenerational effects of grandmaternal under-nutrition during gestation on the health of this relatively young group, but the increased adiposity in the offspring of prenatally undernourished fathers may lead to increased chronic disease rates in the future.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Body Composition / physiology*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / epidemiology*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / history
  • Starvation / complications*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires