Undernutrition in teenage years can lead to heart disease
Posted on Saturday, 27th August 2011
Teenage girls who starve themselves in an attempt to lose weight could raise their risk of heart disease later in life by up to a third, a new study suggests.
Severe undernutrition during adolescence, even for short periods, can have severe consequences later in life according to researchers from the University Medical Centre in Utrecht, The Netherlands.
A study of almost 8,000 women found that those were seriously deprived of food during their teens, through no fault of their own, went on to have a significantly higher risk of heart disease in future years.
Doctors recommend women eat 2000 calories a day to stay healthy, but some modern-day celebrities have reportedly chosen to undergo periods of starvation in a bid to make themselves thinner.
Victoria Beckham is alleged to have eaten 600 calories a day after adopting a diet of little more than mineral water and strawberries before becoming pregnant with her third son, Cruz.
Even more severe was the diet of Portia De Rossi, the former Ally McBeal and Arrested Development actress, who last year claimed to have dropped six stone during an earlier period of anorexia in which she ate just 300 calories a day.
Healthy eating campaigners expressed concerns that negative images in the media could prove seriously damaging to young people having trouble with their own eating habits.
A study of almost 8,000 women found that those exposed to severe underlnutrition and weight loss at some point during their childhood and adolescence had a 27 per cent higher risk of coronary heart disease in later life, rising to 38 per cent in those who had been aged 10 to 17.
Women who had suffered moderate hunger and weight loss had a slightly higher risk of heart disease, although the study also found that the risk of stroke was lower for women who had been undernourished than for those who had not.
Annet van Abeelen, who led the study, said: "Our study pinpoints the crucial role childhood plays in adult health.
"Growth that has been hampered by undernutrition in later childhood, followed by a subsequent recovery, may have metabolic consequences that contribute to an increased risk of diseases later in adulthood."
A spokesperson for Beat, the eating disorder charity, said: "Daily, young people are surrounded by images of so-called role models in the media which can be unhelpful to someone who is struggling with their eating habits.
"Eating disorders and yo-yo dieting can certainly have long term health consequences which can lead to organ failure."
Researchers studied almost 7,845 women who had been aged up to 21 during the Dutch famine in 1944-45, during which official rations slumped as low as 400-800 calories a day before the country was liberated from Nazi occupation.
Writing in the European Heart Journal, researchers said: "The Dutch famine of 1944-45 is a 'natural experiment' in history, which gave us the unique possibility to study the long-term effects of acute undernutrition during childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood in otherwise well-nourished girls and women."
The participants were divided into three groups - those who had been "severely" exposed to famine, those who had been "hardly" exposed and those whose experience fell in between.
Figures showed that women who were severely exposed to the famine had a 27 per cent higher risk of coronary heart disease than those who were unexposed, rising to 38 per cent in those who were aged 10-17 at the start of the famine.
The researchers observed that stress during the famine may also have led to changes in behaviour which could impact on a person's risk of heart disease later in life.
But in an editorial accompanying the study, Prof Kausik Ray and colleagues at St George's University of London wrote that the paper, along with seperate research into Chinese and Russian famines, provided "consistent data showing that nutritional status in childhood may impact significantly on chronic diseases processes in later life."