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Self-reported depression and anxiety after prenatal famine exposure: mediation by cardio-metabolic pathology?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 February 2011

S. R. de Rooij*
Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
R. C. Painter
Department of Gynecology, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
D. I. Phillips
MRC Epidemiology Resource Centre, Southampton General Hospital, Southampton, UK
K. Räikkönen
Department of Psychology, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
A. H. Schene
Department of Psychiatry, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
T. J. Roseboom
Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
*Address for correspondence: Dr S. R. de Rooij, Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. (Email


Evidence from previous studies suggests an association between prenatal exposure to famine and increased risk for depression. The aim of this study was to investigate whether prenatal exposure to the Dutch famine is associated with self-reported depression/anxiety and whether a potential association is mediated by the presence of cardio-metabolic disease. A total of 819 persons, born as term singletons around the 1944–1945 Dutch famine, filled out the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) and were asked about their medical history. As indicators of cardio-metabolic disease we included type 2 diabetes (T2D), hypertension and coronary heart disease (CHD). In the total study population, exposure to famine during early gestation was associated with the presence of self-reported mild-to-severe anxiety. Evidence was found for several interactions between exposure in early gestation and sex. Subsequent analyses according to sex showed that men exposed to famine during early gestation scored higher on the HADS depression scale. Self-reported mild-to-severe anxiety symptoms were more prevalent among early exposed men. No such differences were found in women. T2D and hypertension were not correlated with any of the depression and anxiety measures. Adjusting for the presence of CHD did minimally attenuate the size of the reported associations. In conclusion, the present results do not match those previously reported in prenatally famine-exposed individuals. We found only weak evidence for an association between prenatal famine exposure and symptoms of depression and anxiety, which was shown exclusively in men exposed during early gestation.

Original Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press and the International Society for Developmental Origins of Health and Disease 2011

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