The winter of 1944 in Holland, the Nazis occupy Holland, they take all the food form the Dutch land into Germany, by that causing a 5 month starvation, started at Nov 1944 and ended with the liberation at May 1945. Calorie intake dropped to 400-800 calories per day in average, which caused 22,000 deaths.

This horrible situation caused a rare human genetics experiment  with pregnant women and the effect of starvation on the unborn, or what's the effect of malnutrition on fetal life.
A paper published called "The effect of war time starvation in Holland on pregnancy and its product"

What this semi controlled experiment taught us is that if you we're a 2nd or 3rd trimester fetus; suffering starvation, your body is learning how much nutrients can he get from the environment, and this effects the metabolism and the use of sugar and fats in adult life, by storing more than the average.

2414 babies  that we're born around the time of the Dutch famine we're included in a study, From Nov 1943 till Nov 1947.

Within the babies there were 2 control groups

  • the first suffered famine in the first year of their life.
  • was concaved and born after the famine, so they we're not effected at all by the famine.

The 3 prenatally exposed groups to the famine

  • Exposed to famine in late gustation - had a light effect in their life.
  • Exposed to famine in mid gustation
  • Exposed to famine in early gustation (born after the famine had ended)

The Dutch famine birth cohort study

The data indicated that the children that suffered famine during their pregnancy in the mid and late parts of the pregnancy we're born in a lower weight.

Effect on birth weight - the Dutch winter famine



The Dutch famine babies weight at the age of 50


So from these numbers we can see that actually the babies that suffer the most are the ones that we're exposed to the famine in the early part of the pregnancy, they suffer more the the other groups:

  • Glucose tolerance
  • Obesity
  • High cholesterol
  • Perceived health
  • Cardiovascular disease and mortality
  • Breast cancer
  • Depression
  • Stress responsiveness
  • Poor results on cognitive tasks
  • Preference to fatty food

One upside of that group is: increase in reproductive success.


More info about the study