June 2015

IZA DP No. 9093: The Long-term Health Effects of Fetal Malnutrition: Evidence from the 1959-1961 China Great Leap Forward Famine

published in: Health Economics, 2017, 26 (10), 1264 - 1277 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hec.3397/full

We report evidence of long-term adverse health impacts of in utero exposure to malnutrition based on survivors in their 50s who were born during the China Famine that occurred in the years 1959-1961. We take advantage of recently available data provided by the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS) to corroborate evidence supporting the Fetal Origin Hypothesis. We find that fetal exposure to malnutrition has large and long-lasting impacts on both physical health and cognitive abilities, including the risks of suffering a stroke, physical disabilities in speech, walking and vision, and measures of mental acuity. Our findings on the health impacts of fetal malnutrition on middle-age survivors suggest that it would be desirable to trace the changes of health status of the famine survivors as they age into later life stages. We suspect that such further study would support the lifetime benefits of in utero and early infancy health interventions that extend through the life cycle in the form of avoiding both physical and mental impairment.