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Open Access Research article

Exposure to the Chinese famine in early life and the risk of anaemia in adulthood

Zumin Shi12*, Cuilin Zhang3, Minghao Zhou4, Shiqi Zhen1 and Anne W Taylor2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Nutrition and Foodborne Disease Prevention, Jiangsu Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Nanjing, China

2 Discipline of Medicine, University of Adelaide, 122 Frome Street, Adelaide, SA 5000, Australia

3 Epidemiology Branch, Division of Epidemiology, Statistics, and Prevention Research, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Bethesda, MD 20852, USA

4 Jiangsu Provincial Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, 172 Jiangsu Road, Nanjing 210009, China

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:904  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-904

Published: 1 October 2013

Abstract

Background

Famine exposure during the early stage of life is related to a number of adulthood diseases. The objective of this study was to examine the association of early life exposure to the famine in China (1959–1961) with the risk of anaemia in adulthood.

Methods

We used the data of 2007 adults born between 1954 and 1964 in Jiangsu province from the 2002 Chinese National Nutrition and Health Survey. Anaemia was defined as haemoglobin concentration <12 g/dl in women and <13 g/dl in men.

Results

Prevalence of anaemia in adulthood in nonexposed, fetal-exposed, early-childhood, mid-childhood, and late-childhood exposed to famine groups were 26.0%, 33.8%, 28.1%, 28.2% and 29.7%, respectively. Overall, fetal-exposed to famine was associated with 37% increased risk of anaemia as compared with those non-exposed after adjusting for income, education, place of residence, smoking, alcohol drinking, job, hypertension and BMI; relative risk (95% confidence interval) (RR (95% CI)) was 1.37 (1.09, 1.71). In general, this association appeared to be stronger among men, those who were currently overweight or obese, or those of lower educational levels. Corresponding RR (95% CI) was 1.87 (1.21-2.87), 1.75 (1.20-2.56), and 2.07 (1.37-3.12), respectively.

Conclusions

Fetal exposure to the Chinese famine was associated with an increased risk of anaemia in adulthood.

Keywords:
Chinese famine; Anemia; Adults; Fetal exposure