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Intergenerational relationship between parental famine exposure and offspring’s obesity risks
  1. Kai Hu1,
  2. Aoyuan Cui2,
  3. Xiao Zhang3
  1. 1Department of Sociology, School of Social and Public Administration, East China University of Science and Technology, Shanghai, China
  2. 2CAS Key Laboratory of Nutrition, Metabolism and Food Safety, Shanghai Institute of Nutrition and Health, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai, China
  3. 3Tianjin Key Laboratory of Conservation and Utilization of Animal Diversity, College of Life Sciences, Tianjin Normal University, Tianjin, China
  1. Correspondence to Dr Xiao Zhang, Tianjin Key Laboratory of Conservation and Utilization of Animal Diversity, College of Life Sciences, Tianjin Normal University, Tianjin, China; zhangxiao{at}


Background The intergenerational relationship between parental famine exposure and the obesity risks of offspring has not been well studied.

Methods Using a cohort of 3654 respondents whose parents were born between 1950 and 1964 from the national data of the China Family Panel Studies, this study examines the associations between parental exposure to the 1959–1961 Chinese famine and offspring’s body mass index (BMI). A cross-sectional difference-in-difference design was used to estimate the effects of parental famine exposures on offspring’s BMI by exploiting temporal variations in the duration and period of famine across the parental birth cohorts between 1950 and 1964, and geographical variations in the famine severity at the province level.

Results After adjusting individual characteristics and province-level fixed effects, we found that parental famine exposures in the preschool and school-age stages were associated with an increased BMI of offspring while there was not a significant association between prenatal famine exposure and offspring’s BMI. The stratified analyses further show that the effects of parental famine exposure did not follow the same trajectory in subgroups.

Conclusions Famine experiences of parents were associated with increased BMI of offspring, suggesting an intergenerational impact of severe malnutrition on obesity risks.

  • Obesity
  • Famine exposure
  • Epigenetics
  • Intergeneration
  • BMI

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request.

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Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request.

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  • KH and AC contributed equally.

  • Contributors KH: Writing—original draft, writing—reviewing and editing, software, software data curation, visualisation, validation. AC: Conceptualisation, writing, visualisation, investigation. XZ: Conceptualisation, writing, visualisation, investigation. XZ and KH are responsible for the overall content as guarantors.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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