Early onset of coronary artery disease after prenatal exposure to the Dutch famine1–3

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Limited evidence suggests that maternal undernutrition at the time of conception is associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk in adult offspring.


We investigated whether persons conceived during the Dutch famine of World War II had an early onset of coronary artery disease (CAD).


We compared the age at onset and cumulative incidence of CAD between persons born as term singletons who were exposed to the 1944–1945 Dutch famine during late (n = 160), mid- (n = 138), or early (n = 87) gestation and 590 unexposed subjects at age 50 or 58 y. Age at CAD onset was defined as the age at which angina pectoris was identified (according to the Rose questionnaire), Q waves were observed on an electrocardiogram (Minnesota codes 1–1 or 1–2), or coronary revascularization was performed (by angioplasty or bypass surgery).


Of the 83 CAD cases identified, persons conceived during the famine were 3 y younger than the unexposed persons at the time of CAD diagnosis (47 y compared with 50 y) and had a higher cumulative incidence of CAD [13%; hazard ratio (HR) adjusted for sex: 1.9; 95% CI: 1.0, 3.8] than did the unexposed persons. The HR changed little after adjustment for smoking (HR: 1.8), social class (HR: 2.0), or size at birth (HR: 2.0).


We found an earlier onset of CAD among persons conceived during the famine, which suggests that maternal nutrition in early gestation may play a role in the onset of CAD. This finding agrees with evidence from animal experiments that identify periconceptional maternal diet as important in the offspring's adult health. Am J Clin Nutr 2006;84:322–7.

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