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Annu Rev Public Health. 2011;32:237-62. doi: 10.1146/annurev-publhealth-031210-101230.

Prenatal famine and adult health.

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Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, New York 10032, USA.


We review human studies on the relation between acute exposures to prenatal famine and adult physical and mental health. These studies are observational and include exposures to a famine environment by natural or man-made causes or, more commonly, from the interplay between natural and human factors. These natural experiments provide an opportunity to examine long-term outcomes after famine exposures by comparing exposed and nonexposed individuals. The studies show consistent associations between prenatal famine and adult body size, diabetes, and schizophrenia. For other measures of adult health, findings are less robust. A relation between prenatal famine and some reported epigenetic changes may provide a potential mechanism to explain specific associations. Much progress can be made if current separate studies are further analyzed with comparable definitions of exposures and outcomes and using common analytic strategies.

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