Future heart health 'shaped by diet'

Heart What we eat as a child has long-term effects on our heart, say researchers

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Growing up starved of calories may give you a higher risk of heart disease 50 years on, research suggests.

Researchers in The Netherlands tracked the heart health of Dutch women who lived through the famine at the end of World War II.

Those living on rations of 400-800 calories a day had a 27% higher risk of heart disease in later life.

It's the first direct evidence early nutrition shapes future health, they report in the European Heart Journal.

The Dutch famine of 1944-45 gave researchers in Holland a unique opportunity to study the long-term effects of severe malnutrition in childhood and adolescence.

A combination of factors - including failed crops, a harsh winter and the war - caused thousands of deaths among people living in the west of The Netherlands.

The women, who were aged between 10 and 17 at the time, were followed up in 2007.

The team, from the University Medical Center Utrecht and the University of Amsterdam, found those who were severely affected by the famine had a 27% greater risk of developing heart disease than those who had had enough to eat.

Diet impact

Lead author Annet van Abeelen told the BBC: "The most important message is that it is good to realise that disturbing the development of children through acute malnutrition can have implications for later adult health.

"It's not only the short-term direct consequences that matter. Even 50 years later, there is still a higher risk of adult coronary heart disease."

Victoria Taylor, senior heart health dietitian for the British Heart Foundation, said: "This study showed a link between children and young adults experiencing famine and the likelihood of them developing heart disease later on in life.

"Although it wasn't clear exactly what changes occurred in the body to increase the risk, this highlights how our environment can have a long-term impact upon our heart health.

"Fortunately, the problems of famine seen in other countries have not been an issue in the UK in recent times. But that doesn't make this study irrelevant for us.

"It adds to the importance of providing a healthy diet for children and young people because of the way it can shape their future heart health."

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