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Tue, 23.07.24

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IMAJ | volume 14

Journal 4, April 2015
pages: 206-212

Chronic Health Conditions in Jewish Holocaust Survivors Born during World War II

    Summary

    Abstract

    Background:

    Findings of studies addressing outcomes of war-related famine in non-Jewish populations in Europe during the Second World War (WWII) confirmed an association between prenatal/early life exposure to hunger and adult obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular heart disease and the metabolic syndrome. Fetal programming was suggested as the explanatory mechanism.

    Objectives:

    To study the association between being born during WWII in Europe and physical long-term outcomes in child Holocaust survivors.   

    Methods:

    We conducted a cross-sectional study on all Jewish Clalit Health Services (CHS) North District members born in 1940–1945 in Europe ('exposed', n=653) or in Israel to Europe-born parents ('non-exposed', n=433). Data on socio-demographic variables, medical diagnoses, medication procurement, laboratory tests and health services utilization were derived from the CHS computerized database and compared between the groups.

    Results:

    The exposed were significantly more likely than the non-exposed to present with dyslipidemia (81% vs. 72%, respectively), hypertension (67% vs. 53%), diabetes mellitus (41% vs. 28%), vascular disease (18% vs. 9%) and the metabolic syndrome (17% vs. 9%). The exposed also made lower use of health services but used anti-depressive agents more often compared to the non-exposed. In multivariate analyses, being born during WWII remained an independent risk marker for hypertension (OR = 1.52), diabetes mellitus (OR = 1.60), vascular disease (OR = 1.99) and the metabolic syndrome (OR = 2.14).

    Conclusions:

    The results of this cross-sectional study based on highly validated data identify a high risk group for chronic morbidity. A question regarding potential trans-generational effects that may impact the ‘second generation’ is also raised.

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