Long-term health effects in adults born during the Holocaust

Eyal Bercovich, Lital Keinan-Boker, Shaul M. Shasha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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 Israeliborn 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-207
Number of pages5
JournalIsrael Medical Association Journal
Volume16
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2014

Keywords

  • Fetal origin of adult disease
  • Holocaust
  • Holocaust survivors
  • Hunger
  • Late morbidity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (all)

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