Introduction: Evidence from animal studies suggest that the rate of ageing may be influenced not only by genetic and lifestyle factors, but also by the prenatal environment. We have previously shown that people who were exposed to famine during early gestation performed worse on a selective attention task, which may be a first sign of cognitive decline, and were on average 3 years younger at the time of coronary artery disease diagnosis. Women in this group seem to die at a younger age. We hypothesise that an accelerated ageing process, set in motion by the poor prenatal environment, underlies these findings.
Methods and analysis: The Dutch Famine Birth Cohort consists of 2414 men and women born in Amsterdam as term singletons around the time of the Dutch famine. In a subsample of 150 cohort members, who now are about 68 years of age, we are currently measuring cognitive decline and the incidence of white matter hyperintensities and cerebral microbleeds (through MRI), incidence of fractures, grip strength and physical performance, visual acuity and incidence of cataract operations. In this same subgroup, we will assess telomere length, oxidative stress and inflammatory status as potential underlying mechanisms. Furthermore, in the entire cohort, we will assess mortality as well as hospital admissions for age-related diseases up to the age of 68 years.
Ethics and dissemination: The study was approved by the local medical ethics committee (Academic Medical Centre, University of Amsterdam) and is being carried out in agreement with the Declaration of Helsinki. All participants give written informed consent. Study findings will be widely disseminated to the scientific public as well as to the medical society and general public.
Keywords: Epidemiology; Geriatric Medicine; Nutrition & Dietetics; Public Health.