Did you know?
The Dutch famine, known as the Hongerwinter, killed 22,000 people in the German-occupied part of the Netherlands during the winter of 1944-1945, towards the end of World War II. With a military blockade cutting off food and fuel shipments, approximately 4.5 million people were affected. Because the famine took place in a modern developed country – albeit suffering military occupation – and was therefore very well documented, it provided opportunities for researchers to learn about the effects of famine on human health. The Dutch Famine Birth Cohort Study found made the groundbreaking discovery that the children of pregnant women exposed to famine were more susceptible to chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
Data collected over the years has enhanced understanding of epigenetic changes provoked by famine that are passed through the generations. The discovery of the cause of Coeliac disease may also be partly attributed to the Dutch famine.
The British actress and humanitarian Audrey Hepburn spent her childhood in the Netherlands during the famine. In later life, she suffered from anaemia, respiratory problems and depression as a result.
(1): CIA factbook
(2): WHO 2008
(3): IDF Diabetes Atlas, 5th edition annual update, 2012