Children born at the time of First World War, whose fathers were killed or seriously injured in the war had their own lives shortened by a year on average, according to a new French study.
The findings further our understanding of the long-term effects of maternal psychological stress on children, researchers said.
An Inserm team from Bicetre Hospital in France used newly-accessible historical databases to identify over 4,000 children born between 1914 and 1916 whose fathers were either killed or severely injured during World War One (WW1). Both of these groups are considered to have suffered early life adversities (ELAs).
Of those children identified who had lost their father, the team also determined whether the death occurred after their birth, or whilst they were in the womb.
Each individual was matched with a “control” of the same sex, age of mother, and date and district of birth.
Researchers found that all of those who experienced ELA suffered an increased mortality in adulthood, losing an average of one year of adult life expectancy compared to controls.
The decrease in adult life expectancy was greater for those whose father had been killed whilst their mother was pregnant – a median of 2.2 years shorter than controls.
“The next step in the study will be to determine the cause of death for those having suffered ELA. This will shed light on the mechanisms involved,” said lead researcher Nicolas Todd.
“We know that deregulation of the stress response is commonly found on animal models of ELAs, so it will be interesting to see if any evidence of this can be seen in the causes of death in the French cohort,” Todd said.
“It may give us further insight into the long-term effects of ELA,” he added.