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Long-term health consequences following the siege of Leningrad
Södertörn University, School of Social Sciences, SCOHOST (Stockholm Centre on Health of Societies in Transition). CHESS, Stockholm Universtiy / Karolinska Institutet.
CHESS, Stockholm Universtiy / Karolinska Institutet.
Russian Academy of Medicine Science, St. Petersburg, Russia.
Karolinska Institutet.
2013 (English)In: Early life nutrition and adult health and development: lessons from changing dietary patterns, famines and experimental studies / [ed] L.H. Lumey and Alexander Vaiserman, New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc., 2013, 207-225 p.Chapter in book (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

We are interested in the long-term health consequences associated with severe starvation and war trauma, and whether certain "age windows" exist when exposure to such events are particularly harmful.The siege of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) during World War II provided an opportunity to study this. For 872 days, German troops prevented supplies from reaching Leningrad. Simultaneously, there was a food blockade and a steady and merciless bombardment by shells from guns and from the air. The first winter, 1941/42, represents the most severe food shortage, amounting to mass starvation or semi-starvation. Our late colleague, Professor Dimitri Shestov, had suffered the consequences of the Leningrad siege as a boy and believed that it had taken a toll on people beyond its immediate short- and medium-range consequences. He was particularly concerned about its long-term consequences for circulatory disease. A 1973 US-Soviet agreement, the socalled Lipid Research Clinics Collaboration, gave him an opportunity to study this. From 1975 to 1982 men and women living in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) were randomly sampled and invited to examine their health and cardiovascular functioning. Dimitri Shestov added a simple question to this examination: "Were you in Leningrad during the blockade?" A third of the participants were. They had experienced peak starvation (in January 1942) at ages 1-31 (women) or 6-26 (men).The mortality follow-up began immediately after the first clinical examinations in 1975 and continued for three decades, until the end of 2005. Our analyses show that the siege of Leningrad, particularly when experienced in puberty, has had long-term effects on blood pressure both in men and women.We also found a raised IHD and stroke risk among those men. This was partly mediated via blood pressure but not by any other measured biological, behavioral, or social factors.Girls experiencing the siege around puberty suffered an elevated risk of dying from breast cancer later in life.The fact that the effect of siege exposure is modified by the age at exposure is highly interesting from a scientific point of view. It may suggest that a reprogramming of physiological systems can occur at specific age windows in response to starvation and/or war trauma. The team that worked from 1975-2005 to collect clinical information and death certificates for participants in the study included Svetlana Plavinskaya, born in Leningrad during the siege. Dimitri Shestov and Svetlana Plavinskaya died in 2010 and 2011, respectively. We dedicate this chapter to their memory.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc., 2013. 207-225 p.
Nutrition and diet research progress
National Category
Nutrition and Dietetics
URN: urn:nbn:se:sh:diva-21953ISBN: 9781624171291 (print)OAI: diva2:694727
Available from: 2014-02-07 Created: 2014-02-07 Last updated: 2015-01-02Bibliographically approved

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