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Long-Term Effects of Famine on Chronic Diseases: Evidence from China’s Great Leap Forward Famine


E2016008                                                                         May 2016

Xuefeng Hu(a), Gordon G. Liu(b), and Maoyong Fan(c)*

(a )Xuefeng Hu, Department of Biology, University of Ottawa. 
(b )Gordon Liu, National School of Development, Beijing University.
(c )Maoyong Fan, Department of Economics, Ball State University.


We evaluate the long-term effects of famine on chronic diseases using China’s Great Leap Forward Famine as a natural experiment. Using a unique health survey, we explore the heterogeneity of famine intensity across regions and find strong evidence supporting both the adverse effect and the selection effect. The two offsetting effects co-exist and their magnitudes vary in different age cohorts at the onset of famine.  The selection effect is dominant among the prenatal/infant famine-exposed cohort, while the adverse effect appears dominant among the childhood/puberty famine-exposed cohort. The net famine effects are more salient in rural residents and non-migrants subsamples. Gender differences are also found, and are sensitive to smoking and drinking behaviors. Our conclusion is robust to various specifications. 

Keywords: Great Leap Forward Famine, Chronic Disease, Adverse Effect, Selection Effect, Gender Difference

JEL Classifications: C21; I18; J13

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