Women exposed to the Chinese famine of 1959 to 1961 during fetal and infant stages had an elevated risk for dyslipidemia, according to a study in BMC Public Health.
“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,” Jun Ma, PhD, director of the Health Science Centre at Peking University in Beijing, said in a press release. “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 males being more sufficiently nourished during the famine.”
Researchers analyzed data from 2,752 participants aged 45 years and older who were exposed to the Chinese famine at different stages of life. Participants were categorized by the stage of life at which the famine occurred: fetal stage exposed (n = 797; mean age, 51 years), infant stage exposed (n = 536; mean age, 53 years), preschool stage exposed (n = 597; mean age, 55 years) and nonexposed cohort (n = 822; mean age, 47 years).
Dyslipidemia was defined as a triglyceride and HDL ratio above 5, the use of lipid-lowering drugs or self-reported dyslipidemia.
Prevalence of dyslipidemia was 23.1% in the fetal cohort, 22% in the infant cohort, 18.6% in the preschool cohort and 15.7% in the nonexposed cohort. After adjusting for current family economic status and sex, participants exposed to famine in the fetal stage (OR = 1.58; 95% CI, 1.23-2.03) and infant stage (OR = 1.52; 95% CI, 1.15-2) had a higher risk for dyslipidemia compared with those in the nonexposed group.
LDL concentrations in adulthood increased in participants exposed to the famine at the early-life stage once adjusted for age.
The risk for dyslipidemia increased in women exposed in fetal (OR = 1.8; 95% CI, 1.26-2.57), infant (OR = 1.75; 95% CI, 1.17-2.62) and preschool stages (OR = 1.63; 95% CI, 1.1-2.42) compared with those in the nonexposed cohort, although the link was not seen in men.
“In China, male children took precedence over the female due to gender bias, and thus they may potentially be sufficiently nourished during the famine,” Zhenghe Wang, a PhD student in the Institute of Child and Adolescent Health at Peking University Health Science Centre School of Public Health, and colleagues wrote. “Additionally, survivor bias might be another reason to interpret the lack of ‘effect’ on males. Males were more vulnerable prenatal insult than females to both short- and long-term effects of famine, but die at higher rates. Thus, male survivors could be healthier than female survivors.” – by Darlene Dobkowski
Disclosures: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.