Exposure to famine in early life and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in adulthood

Ningjian Wang, Yi Chen, Zhiyuan Ning, Qin Li, Bing Han, Chunfang Zhu, Yingchao Chen, Fangzhen Xia, Boren Jiang, Bingshun Wang, Xiaojin Wang, Michael D. Jensen, Yingli Lu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Context: Epidemiologic studies have indicated that early life nutrition influences later risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is also considered a metabolic disease. Objective: The aim was to explore the association between adult NAFLD and fetal or childhood exposure to Great Chinese Famine between 1959 and 1962 during fetal and childhood period. Design and setting: In total, 5306 subjects from the Survey on Prevalence in East China for Metabolic Diseases and Risk Factors study were divided into a fetal-exposed (1959-1962), childhood-exposed (1949-1958), adolescence/young adult-exposed (1921-1948), and nonexposed (1963-1974, reference) group. Main outcome measure: The degrees of steatosis of NAFLD were determined by ultrasonography. Results: The prevalences of NAFLD in the nonexposed (1963-1974), fetal-exposed, and childhood-exposed participants were 55.9%, 55.8%, and 55.4% in men and 33.0%, 46.3%, and 51.7% in women, respectively. Compared with those nonexposed, fetal- and childhood-exposed women but not men had a significantly higher prevalence of moderate-severe steatosis (P<.05). A significant association existed in women between increased alanine aminotransferase and both fetal and childhood exposure to famine, after adjusting for age, rural/urban residence, economic status, body mass index, diabetes, dyslipidemia, and hypertension (both P<.05). Famine exposure during the fetal period (odds ratio 1.77,95% confidence interval 1.22, 2.57) and childhood (odds ratio 1.82, 95% confidence interval 1.35, 2.46) was associated with an increased prevalence of moderate-severe NAFLD in women in the above fully adjusted model. Conclusions: Exposure to the Great Famine in early life had sex-specific association with moderate-severe NAFLD. This indicates that malnutrition in early life may influence the development of adult NAFLD; thus pregnant women and their infants and children may require the highest priority in obtaining nutritional relief.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2218-2225
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Biochemistry
  • Endocrinology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Biochemistry, medical


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