The impact of WWII on age at menarche of women in Poland

The impact of WWII on age at menarche of women in Poland

Authors:  

Grażyna Liczbińska, Institute of Anthropology, Faculty of Biology, Adam Mickiewicz University, Umultowska 89, 61-614 Poznań, Poland

Zbigniew Czapla, Institute of Anthropology, Faculty of Biology, Adam Mickiewicz University, Umultowska 89, 61-614 Poznań, Poland

Janusz Piontek, Institute of Anthropology, Faculty of Biology, Adam Mickiewicz University, Umultowska 89, 61-614 Poznań, Poland

Robert M. Malina, Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, University of Texas, Austin, TX 78705 USA

Panel: War impacts on health

Key words: socio-economic conditions, war time conditions, weight status, standard of living, BMI

Abstract

Conditions in Poland during WWII exposed the population to chronic food deprivation and poor nutritional quality, poor hygiene and increased prevalence of disease, and extreme stress associated with the war per se, loss of family members, devastation and loss of property and anxiety about the future. Conditions associated with the war impacted quality of life and also biological characteristics of the population, including height, weight, ages at menarche and menopause, birth weight, among others.
This presentation considers age at menarche and body size (height, weight) of university students born before, during and after WWII. Subjects were 518 university students born in 1931 through 1951 who were surveyed between 1955 and 1972. The sample was divided into three birth cohorts: during WWII (n=247), and for comparison before (n=237) and after it (n=34). The body mass index (weight/height2, BMI) was calculated. Information on father’s level of education was used an indicator of family economic status.
Age at menarche was compared among birth cohorts, and also by weight status (BMI, WHO criteria) and father’s level of education. Age at menarche differed significantly among birth cohorts (p<0.05); it increased slightly but significantly (<0.05) among women born during WWII (14.4±1.3 yrs) compared to those born before (14.2±1.3 yrs) and after (13.9±1.3 yrs) the war. The difference between students born after and during the war approached significance (p=0.07). Height also differed significantly among birth cohorts (p<0.001). Students born before the war were significantly taller than students born during the war (p<0.001). Weight and the BMI did not differ by birth cohort.
Adjusting for year of birth and age of the student, age at menarche was significantly earlier in overweight (13.42±0.35 yrs) than in normal weight (14.33±0.06 yrs) and thin (14.54±0.21 yrs) women. Father’s level of education was significantly correlated with weight status (rho = -0.14, p<0.001) and also with age at menarche (rho = -0.21, p<0.001); as such, it was a potential confounded. Results of an analysis of covariance with year of birth and age of the student at the time of study as covariates indicated a significant effect of young adult weight status (F=3.71, p=0.05), but a non-significant effect of father’s level of education (F=0.50) on age at menarche. Mean age at menarche, adjusted for the covariates, was significantly earlier (p<0.05) in the small sample of overweight students (13.42±0.35 years) than in normal weight (14.33±0.06 years) and thin (14.54±0.21 years) students; ages at menarche did not differ between the latter. Adjusted ages at menarche also declined with increasing level of father’s education: primary or no education 14.29±0.28 years, vocational 14.18±0.29 years, secondary 14.03±0.28 years, and higher 13.86±0.26 years.
Though interesting, the results must be considered in the context of the conditions into which the students were born and subsequently reared. Poland was re-established as a political entity in November 1918 from lands occupied for the preceding 120 years by Russia, Prussia and Austria. Not quite one generation later, WWII devastated the country, followed by a long recovery process.