Early-life exposure to famine increases risk of dyslipidaemia in women: China study

By Gary Scattergood contact

- Last updated on GMT

The famine contributed to 30 million deaths.
The famine contributed to 30 million deaths.

Related tags: Pregnancy

Exposure to severe famine as a foetus or infant significantly increases the chance of having dyslipidaemia in adulthood for women, analysis of people affected by the Chinese famine has revealed

The research, published in the journal BMC Public Health, ​highlighted that dyslipidaemia is a risk factor for coronary heart disease.

Analysis of the prevalence of dyslipidaemia in 2,752 people who were exposed to the Chinese famine between 1959 and 1961 revealed that women who were in utero or an infant during this period are over 50% more likely to have dyslipidaemia in adulthood.

Of these people, 797 had been exposed as a fetus, 536 as an infant and 597 at preschool age. The prevalence of dyslipidemia as an adult was 15.7% for the non-exposed group, 23.1% for the fetal exposed group, 22% for the infant exposed group, and 18.6% for the preschool age exposed group. Increases in dyslipidaemia prevalence across all the groups were only significant for women.

Cultural differences

Dr Jun Ma, lead author from Peking University Health Science Centre, said: "We found that early-life exposure to the Chinese famine only raises risk of dyslipidemia in women, which is in contrast to studies involving people exposed to the Dutch famine of 1944 and 1945. We speculate that this is due to cultural differences between Europe and China. In China, male children have historically taken precedence over females, and this gender bias may have led to males being more sufficiently nourished during the famine."

Between 1959 and 1961 almost the entire mainland China suffered an extreme food shortage, leading to severe famine that contributed to 30 million premature deaths. Academics say eople who were born or grew up in this period provide a unique cohort to study the effects of famine on health status in adult life.

Physical activity

Dr Ma added: "Severe maternal under-nutrition during pregnancy could play a key role in the observed increase in dyslipidemia risk in later life. Malnutrition in pregnancy has been shown in animal models to alter cholesterol synthesis in the foetus. Malnutrition during pregnancy has also previously been linked to an increased likelihood of consuming a high-fat diet and a lower level of physical activity."

We have previosuly reported how academics have assessed the relationship between the famine and hypertension​, and scizophrenia​.

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