Elevated levels of protein in urine in adulthood after exposure to the Chinese famine of 1959-61 during gestation and the early postnatal period.Int J Epidemiol 2014; 43(6):1806-14IJ
Animal models have suggested that undernutrition during gestation and the early postnatal period may adversely affect kidney development and compromise renal function. As a natural experiment, famines provide an opportunity to test such potential effects in humans. We assessed whether exposure to the Chinese famine of 1959-1961 during gestation and early postnatal life was associated with the levels of proteinuria among female adults three decades after exposure to the famine.
We measured famine intensity using the cohort size shrinkage index and we constructed a difference-in-difference model to compare the levels of proteinuria, measured with a dipstick test of random urine specimens, among Chinese women (n = 70 543) whose exposure status to the famine varied across birth cohorts (born before, during or after the famine) and counties of residence with different degrees of famine intensity.
Famine exposure was associated with a greater risk [odds ratio (OR) = 1.54; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.04, 2.28; P = 0.029) of having higher level of proteinuria among women born during the famine years (1959-61) compared with the unexposed post famine-born cohort (1964-65) in rural samples. No association was observed among urban samples. Results were robust to adjustment for covariates.
Severe undernutrition during gestation and the early postnatal period may have long-term effects on levels of proteinuria in humans, but the effect sizes may be small.