Evidence from animal models suggests that fetal undernutrition can predispose to hypercholesterolemia and metabolic disorders directly by programming cholesterol metabolism and may indirectly influence lifestyle choices. We have shown that persons who were exposed to the Dutch famine in early gestation have a more atherogenic lipid profile.
We now investigate whether the excess in hypercholesterolemia may be a result of a more atherogenic diet or a reduction in physical activity.
We measured lipid profiles, dietary intake, and physical activity in 730 men and women (aged 58 y) born in the Wilhelmina Gasthuis in Amsterdam, Netherlands, around the time of the Dutch famine, whose birth records have been kept.
No differences were observed in mean intake of total energy or percentage of protein, carbohydrate, and fat in the diet between the different exposure groups. However, persons exposed to famine in early gestation were twice as likely (odds ratio: 2.1; 95% CI: 1.2, 3.9) to consume a high-fat diet (defined as the highest quartile of percentage of fat in the diet: >39% of energy from fat). They also tended to be less physically active (45% did sports compared with 52% in the unexposed group), although this did not reach statistical significance.
This is the first direct evidence in humans that prenatal nutrition may affect dietary preferences and may contribute to more atherogenic lipid profiles in later life.