Prenatal Exposure to Famine and Risk for Development of Psychopathology in Adulthood: A Meta-Analysis

Author(s): K. Dana, J. Finik, S. Koenig, J. N. Motter, W. Zhang, M.

Prenatal famine, resulting in intrauterine malnutrition, impacts offspring psychopathology later in adulthood. In addition, the specific impact of intrauterine malnutrition of different psychopathology differs by the timing of the exposure. Using a meta-analysis, the current study assessed the specific risk of developing affective, psychotic, and personality disorders. Studies were identified using PubMed and PsycINFO. Studies met the following criteria for inclusion in the analysis: availability in peer-reviewed English journals, use of human subjects, prenatal exposure to famine, and psychopathology in adulthood defined by diagnostic criteria as an outcome. Fixed effect relative risks (RRs) were calculated for affective, psychotic, and personality domains. Furthermore, timing of exposure was assessed as an effect modifier in our analysis, defined by the index trimester at the height of famine. Our meta-analysis found that adults exposed in utero during the 1st trimester were at a significant increased risk of psychotic disorders (RR=1.46, 95% CI=1.08, 1.97, p=0.014), and personality disorders (RR=2.31, 95% CI=1.36, 3.92, p=0.002). Those exposed during the 2nd trimester were at a significant increased risk of affective disorders (RR=1.45, 95% CI=1.22, 1.72, p<0.0001), and psychotic disorders (RR=1.46, 95% CI=1.13, 1.89, p=0.004). Similarly, those exposed in the 3rd trimester were at a significant increased risk of affective disorders (RR=1.33, 95% CI=1.13, 1.57, p=0.0001), and psychotic disorders RR=1.47, 95% CI=1.10, 1.97, p=0.010). Our findings suggest that there is differential risk across the different domains of psychopathology by trimester of exposures. This meta-analysis underscores the need for further investigation into the mechanisms underlying prenatal maternal nutrition and offspring psychopathology where magnitude of elevated risk differs by the exposure timing during pregnancy.

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