No Increased Health Consequences After Chinese Famine Except Schizophrenia Interview with:

L. H. Lumey, MD, PhD Professor of Epidemiology Mailman School of Public Health Columbia University

Dr. Lumey

L. H. Lumey, MD, PhD
Professor of Epidemiology
Mailman School of Public Health
Columbia University What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: The Chinese Great Leap Forward Famine in 1959-1961 is the largest famine in human history. Earlier studies have reported that overweight, type 2 diabetes, hyperglycemia, the metabolic syndrome and schizophrenia were more common among adults who were exposed to the famine. Our re-analysis of all previous studies shows no increases in diabetes, high blood pressure and other chronic conditions among famine births except for schizophrenia. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Our analysis point to an unrecognized flaw in common famine reports. Using only controls born after the famine, famine births will be older than controls and this will make them less healthy than controls. We show that most effects commonly attributed to the famine by previous studies can be explained by uncontrolled age differences between famine births and controls. It is hard to draw conclusions from present studies on the long-term impact of the famine, except for schizophrenia. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Significant improvements are needed in the design and analysis of Chinese famine studies for reliable estimates of long-term effects. Better indicators of famine exposure are needed using for instance date of birth for individuals and local information on the severity of the famine in specific regions in specific months and years. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: As a next step, we will continue our work with systematic analyses of study results from ongoing health surveys in China.

No disclosures. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Chihua Li, L.H. Lumey. Exposure to the Chinese famine of 1959–61 in early life and long-term health conditions: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Epidemiology, 2017; DOI: 10.1093/ije/dyx013

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Last Updated on March 16, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD