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The Dutch Famine Birth Cohort Study

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The Dutch Famine Birth Cohort Study

Name of the Study

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Dutch Hunger Winter Study / The Dutch Famine Birth Cohort Study

Where did the Study Take Place?

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Amsterdam, the Netherlands

When did the Study Happen?

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1944-1945 famine, first results published in 1976, ongoing studies

Who Did the Study?

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The departments of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Gynecology and Obstetrics and Internal Medicine of the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam, in collaboration with the MRC Environmental Epidemiology Unit of the University of Southampton in Britain

Who Were They Studying?

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In the winter and spring of 1944 after a railway strike, the German occupation limited rations such that people, including pregnant women, in the western region of The Netherlands, including Amsterdam, received as little as 400–800 calories per day. The famine affected people of all social classes and was followed by growing prosperity in the postwar period.

How Many People Were Studied?

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The Dutch Hunger Winter Families study represents the fifth in a series of Dutch famine birth cohort studies and includes 3307 singleton births in three clinics in cities affected by the famine. To avoid potential biases related to the clustering of health outcomes across the generations, they examined whenever possible an unexposed same-sex sibling of each clinic birth as a family control. The survivors in this study were interviewed and examined at the age of 59 years.

What Did They Want to Find Out?

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Support for the DOHaD hypothesis!

What Did They Find Out?

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The study has shown that the offspring of mothers who were pregnant during the famine have more diabetes. People exposed to famine during mid gestation develop more obstructive pulmonary disease and microalbuminuria. Those who were exposed early gestation have more atherogenic lipid profile, altered clotting, more obesity, and a 3-fold increase in cardiovascular disease.

One of the important observations from the Dutch Hunger Winter Study was that intrauterine exposures that have long-lasting consequences for adult health do not necessarily result in altered birth weight. Women exposed to the famine during mid- to late gestation had babies with significantly reduced birth weights. Babies whose mothers were exposed only during early gestation had normal birth weights; however, they grew up to have higher rates of obesity than those born before and after the war and higher rates than those exposed during mid- to late gestation.