There was a great famine in the Netherlands during 1945 to early 1955. The winter of 1945 was unusually severe in the Netherlands and a war blockade obstructed food from being shipped to the Dutch people. This period in history, nicknamed The Dutch Hunger Winter, remains one of the most influential famine studies to this date. This period allowed for breakthroughs in prenatal studies. During the hunger winter, many babies were born despite the malnutrition of their mothers. Many famines are hard to study because infant mortality rates become high and many babies do not survive. In the case of the Dutch Hunger Winter however, many babies were born and data was collected on them in their early years as well as late in adulthood. It was estimated that the average person ate less than 1000 kcals a day that year. This is a stark difference in comparison to the average 1800 kcal that the Dutch people had daily in previous years.
One study noted that there was a correlation found between the children who were born during the Dutch Hunger Winter and risk for addictive behavior. This study and numerous others have concluded that prenatal malnutrition has effects on children that last for a lifetime. For example, it was found decades later that the adults that were born during the famine had double the risk for schizophrenia and an increased risk for obesity. The Dutch Hunger Winter provided insight into how prenatal conditions can be predict chronic diseases of children later in life. Studies furthering the research done on the Dutch Hunger Winter continue to this day. The correlation between chronic disease and prenatal conditions is still unclear however there have been correlations between childhood diet and overall development. There was a correlation between malnutrition during puberty and a greater risk for breast cancer. Another study concluded that diets in childhood have a correlation with atherogenic diseases later in life. It can be astounding to think that what adults consumed as children has an effect on overall heart health and plaque buildup in arteries. Studies such as these and data from the 1945 famine can support how important nutrition is to development and health for a lifetime. It is estimated that the effects of the Dutch Hunger Winter might have been underestimated since the studies during adulthood were done so many decades after, there was already an increased mortality because the test group was entering old age. The Dutch Hunger Winter was a tragedy that took a lot of lives and raised infant mortality. Out of this tragedy, science was able to move forward making it more imperative that this never has to happen again. Dutch genes two generations after are still affected by the famine. Scientists are currently working towards more research in this topic but for now the Dutch Hunger Winter remains some of the most credible resource for our understanding of malnutrition and pregnancy today.
Franzek, Ernst J., et al. “Prenatal Exposure to the 1944-45 Dutch ‘Hunger Winter’ and Addiction Later in Life.” Addiction, vol. 103, no. 3, 2008, pp. 433–438., doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2007.02084.x.
Hart, Nicky. “Famine, Maternal Nutrition and Infant Mortality: A Re-Examination of the Dutch Hunger Winter.” Population Studies, vol. 47, no. 1, 1993, pp. 27–46., doi:10.1080/0032472031000146716.
Michels, Karin B. “Early Life Predictors of Chronic Disease.” Journal of Women’s Health, vol. 12, no. 2, 2003, pp. 157–161., doi:10.1089/154099903321576556.