European Journal of Nutrition

, Volume 58, Issue 4, pp 1625–1633 | Cite as

Famine exposure in early life is associated with visceral adipose dysfunction in adult females

  • Chi Chen
  • Li Zhao
  • Zhiyuan Ning
  • Qin Li
  • Bing Han
  • Jing Cheng
  • Yi Chen
  • Xiaomin Nie
  • Fangzhen XiaEmail author
  • Ningjian WangEmail author
  • Yingli LuEmail author
Original Contribution



Epidemiologic studies have revealed that early life malnutrition increases later risk of metabolic diseases. The visceral adiposity index (VAI) is a novel sex-specific index that shows promise as a marker of visceral adipose dysfunction. We aimed to explore whether exposure to the Chinese famine between 1959 and 1962 during fetal and childhood periods was related to VAI in adulthood.


Our data source was SPECT-China, a population-based cross-sectional study in East China. Overall, 5295 subjects from 16 sites were divided into fetal-exposed (1959–1962), childhood-exposed (1949–1958), adolescence/young adult-exposed (1921–1948), and non-exposed (1963–1974) groups. The associations of life periods when exposed to famine with VAI were assessed via linear regression.


Compared with the non-exposed women (1963–1974), the fetal- and the childhood-exposed women had significantly greater VAI values (P < 0.05), but this difference was not observed in men. In the fetal- and childhood-exposed women, there was a significant positive association of famine exposure with VAI after adjusting for age, current smoking, rural/urban residence, and economic status (both P < 0.05). Further adjustments for diabetes and hypertension did not attenuate this association (both P < 0.05). However, such association was not observed in men.


Exposure to famine in early life may have a significant association with visceral adipose dysfunction in adult females. The fetal age and childhood may be important time windows for nutrition relief to prevent visceral adipose dysfunction.


Famine Early life Visceral adipose dysfunction Female 



The authors thank Weiping Tu, Bin Li, and Ling Hu for helping organize this investigation.

Author contributions

YL had full access to all the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. YL, NW, and FX were responsible for study concept and design. CC, LZ, ZN, QL, BH, JC, YC, and XN conducted the research. CC, LZ, and ZN analyzed the data and drafted the manuscript, which was revised for important intellectual content by all authors. YL and NW are guarantors.


This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (81570726, 81600609); Shanghai JiaoTong University School of Medicine (2014); Science and Technology Commission of Shanghai Municipality (16410723200, 16411971200); Shanghai Municipal Commission of Health and Family Planning (2017YQ053); Commission of Health and Family Planning of Pudong District (PW2015D-5); The Fourth Round of 3-year Public Health Action Plan of Shanghai (15GWZK0202). The funders played no role in the design and conduct of the study; the collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; or the preparation, review, and approval of the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

No potential conflicts of interest relevant to this article were reported.

Supplementary material

394_2018_1707_MOESM1_ESM.docx (20 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 19 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute and Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Shanghai Ninth People’s HospitalShanghai JiaoTong University School of MedicineShanghaiChina

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