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Childhood hunger experiences and chronic health conditions later in life among Brazilian older adults

Lucía Félix-Beltrán  1 , Brayan V Seixas  1

Rev Panam Salud Publica. 2021 Apr 6;45:e39.doi: 10.26633/RPSP.2021.39. eCollection 2021.

Objectives: To assess the association between childhood hunger experiences and the prevalence of chronic diseases later in life.

Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted using baseline data from the Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSI-Brazil), a nationally representative study of persons aged 50 years and older (n = 9 412). Univariate and bivariate analyses were used to describe the sample, and multivariate logistic regressions to examine the association between childhood hunger and hypertension, diabetes, arthritis and osteoporosis. Adjusted odds ratios and predicted probabilities were calculated.

Results: 24.7% of Brazilians aged 50 and over experienced hunger during childhood. This harmful exposure was significantly more common among non-white people, individuals with lower educational attainment, lower household income and heavy manual laborers. Regional variation was also observed, as the prevalence of individuals reporting childhood hunger was higher in the North and Northeast regions. The multivariate analysis revealed that older adults who reported having experienced hunger during childhood had 20% higher odds of developing diabetes in adulthood (aOR = 1.20, 95% CI: 1.02 – 1.41) and 38% higher odds of developing osteoporosis (aOR = 1.38, 95% CI: 1.15 – 1.64) than adults who did not experience hunger during childhood, after controlling for covariates.

 Conclusions: The study showed an association between childhood hunger and two chronic diseases in later life: diabetes and osteoporosis. This work restates that investing in childhood conditions is a cost-effective way to have a healthy society and provides evidence on relationships that deserve further investigation to elucidate underlying mechanisms.