London: Teenage girls who starve themselves to remain slim could up their risk of heart disease by up to a third later in life, a new study has claimed.
   
The study of almost 8,000 women by researchers at the University Medical Centre in Utrecht, The Netherlands, found that severe under nutrition during adolescence, even for short periods, can have severe consequences later in life.
   
It found that women who were seriously deprived of food during their teens, had a 27 per cent higher risk of coronary heart disease in later life, rising to 38 per cent in those who had been aged 10 to 17 years.
   
Those who had suffered moderate hunger and weight loss had a slightly higher risk of heart disease, though the study also found that the risk of stroke was lower for women who had been undernourished than for those who had not a newspaper reported.
   
Annet van Abeelen, who led the study, said, "Our study pinpoints the crucial role childhood plays in adult health.
   
"Growth that has been hampered by under nutrition in later childhood, followed by a subsequent recovery, may have metabolic consequences that contribute to an increased risk of diseases later in adulthood."
   
For the study, published in the European Heart Journal, the researchers studied almost 7,845 women who had been aged up to 21 during the Dutch famine in 1944-45, during which official rations slumped as low as 400-800 calories a day before the country was liberated from Nazi occupation.
   
The participants were divided into three groups – those who had been "severely" exposed to famine, those who had been "hardly" exposed and those whose experience fell in between.
   
Figures showed that women who were severely exposed to the famine had a 27 per cent higher risk of coronary heart disease than those who were unexposed, rising to 38 per cent in those who were aged 10-17 at the start of the famine.

"The Dutch famine of 1944-45 is a 'natural experiment' in history, which gave us the unique possibility to study the long-term effects of acute under nutrition during childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood in otherwise well-nourished girls and women," the researchers said.
   
They observed that stress during the famine may also have led to changes in behaviour which could impact on a person's risk of heart disease later in life.
   
But in an editorial accompanying the study, Prof Kausik Ray and colleagues at St George's University of London wrote that the study showed that "nutritional status in childhood may impact significantly on chronic diseases processes in later life".
   
A spokesperson for Beat, the eating disorder charity, said: "Daily, young people are surrounded by images of so-called role models in the media which can be unhelpful to someone who is struggling with their eating habits.
   
"Eating disorders and yo-yo dieting can certainly have long term health consequences that can lead to organ failure."

(Agencies)