Long-term health effects in adults born during the Holocaust

Isr Med Assoc J. 2014 Apr;16(4):203-7.

Abstract

Background: Previous studies suggest that exposure to starvation and stress between conception and early infancy may have deleterious effects on health later in life; this phenomenon is termed fetal origin of adult disease.

Objectives: To determine whether exposure to the Holocaust from preconception to early infancy is a cause of chronic morbidity in adulthood.

Methods: This pilot study involved 70 European Jews born in countries under Nazi rule (exposed group) during the period 1940-1945 who were interviewed to determine the presence of chronic diseases. A control group of 230 Israeli-born individuals of the same descent, age, and gender distribution were extracted from the Israel National Health Interview Survey-2 (unexposed group). The prevalence of selected risk factors and chronic diseases was compared between the groups.

Results: The prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors and morbidity was significantly higher in the exposed group: body mass index (BMI) (29.06 +/- 3.2 vs. 26.97 +/- 4.42, P = 0.015), hypertension (62.9% vs. 43%, P = 0.003), dyslipidemia (72.9% vs. 46.1%, P < 0.001), diabetes (32.9% vs. 17.4%, P = 0.006), angina pectoris (18.6% vs. 4.8%, P = 0.001) and congestive heart failure (8.6% vs. 1.7%, P = 0.013). The prevalence of cancer (30.0% vs. 8.7% P < 0.001), peptic ulcer disease (21.4% vs. 7%, P = 0.001), headaches/migraines (24.3% vs. 12.6%, P < 0.001) and anxiety/depression (50.0% vs. 8.3%, P < 0.001) was also higher in the exposed group.

Conclusions: These results suggest that exposure to Holocaust conditions in early life may be associated with a higher prevalence of obesity, dyslipidemia, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular morbidity, malignancy and peptic diseases in adulthood. These findings set the stage for further research, which might define those exposed as a high risk group for chronic morbidity.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emigration and Immigration
  • Europe / ethnology
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Health Surveys
  • Holocaust*
  • Humans
  • Israel / epidemiology
  • Jews / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Starvation / complications
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Survivors / statistics & numerical data*
  • World War II