Association between early life exposure to the great famine and possible sarcopenia in older Chinese adults: a national cross-sectional study

Ting Wu, Xiaojin Yan*, Yunfei Liu, Ning Ma, Jiajia Dang, Panliang Zhong, Di Shi, Shan Cai, Hao Cheng, Yi Song*, Patrick W C Lau

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

    1 Citation (Scopus)


    Objectives: We used data from the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS) to investigate how an early life famine exposure affected possible sarcopenia (PS) and to explore the extent to which a sex difference exists in the association among older Chinese adults, as well as whether risk factors modify the association.

    Design: Cross-sectional study.

    Setting: 28 provinces of China.

    Participants: Considering that the Great Chinese Famine lasted from the spring of 1959 to the fall of 1961, 3557 participants were selected and categorised into four subgroups based on their date of birth: unexposed group (1 October 1962 to 30 September 1964), fetal exposed group (1 October 1959 to 30 September 1961), infant exposed group (1 January 1958 to 31 December 1958) and preschool exposed group (1 January 1956 to 31 December 1957).
    Outcome measure:PS was defined as having low muscle strength or low physical performance.

    Methods: We used multivariable logistic models to analyse the association between early life famine exposure and the risk of PS in elderly life.

    Results:The prevalences of PS among individuals in the unexposed, fetal, infant and preschool exposed groups were 15.1%, 14.4%, 23.6% and 21.9%, respectively. Compared with the unexposed group, the infant (OR: 1.55; 95% CI 1.17 to 2.05) and preschool exposed (OR: 1.46; 95% CI 1.17 to 1.82) groups exhibited significantly higher risks of PS. In men, the infant (OR: 2.15; 95% CI 1.40 to 3.31) and preschool exposed (OR: 1.78; 95% CI 1.23 to 2.57) groups were more likely to have PS, but no significant increase was seen in women. In both sexes, prevalence of PS was unrelated to early life famine exposure in the urban, underweight and normal weight subgroups.

    Conclusions: Early life exposure to the Great Chinese Famine was associated with a higher risk of PS in older adults. Keeping normal nutritional status in elderly life might help avoid the risk of PS, whatever the effect of early famine exposure.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere065240
    Number of pages9
    JournalBMJ Open
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2023

    Scopus Subject Areas

    • Medicine(all)

    User-Defined Keywords

    • geriatric medicine
    • nutrition
    • public health


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