Estimated Lesson Duration:

1 class period


The Dutch Hunger Winter took place in the Netherlands at the end of World War II, November 1944 to the spring of 1945.  The survivors were a well-defined group of people, who suffered just one period of malnutrition at exactly the same time. The immediate and long-term effects of this famine were completely unexpected to scientists.  Students will learn about the immediate and long-term epigenetic effects of the Dutch Hunger Winter.  Students will read and create an epigenetic pedigree chart.  Students will learn how healthy  and unhealthy choices can affect the epigenome.

Key Concepts and Standards:

Key Concepts

Caloric intake, malnutrition, epigenetic, pedigree chart, using charts

Essential Understandings

  • Epigenetics control how genes are expressed and how they are turned on or off.
  • When a mom is malnourished during the second half of pregnancy her baby girl will have a higher risk of becoming obese.
  • You can reduce the risk of obesity through life choices such as diet and exercise.  However, the vulnerability of obesity is passed on to your daughters if you, or your mother, was obese during pregnancy.
  • You can create vulnerability to obesity in yourself and your future children through poor nutrition or starvation.


Download the summary sheet about how this lesson meets standards

The standards listed were identified using key concepts from each individual lesson. These key concepts were aligned with the specific Oregon State Standards, Common Core Standards, and Next Generation Science Standards that apply specifically to each individual lesson.

Teachers may consult the Oregon Department of Education’s website for additional terms related to each lesson.


Preparations/ Materials

Materials: Student and teacher background sheets


  1. Hand out Dutch Hunger Winter story and the epigenetics pedigree chart to student groups.
  2. Read together the bulleted points regarding epigenetics on the back of the chart.  In addition, review the pedigree chart key and explain to students that they will fill in symbols regarding the childhood (first half of the circle) and adulthood (second half of the circle) for each female.
  3. In their groups, students should read the story together and complete the pedigree chart, except for the last generation.
  4. As a class, discuss the completed pedigree charts.
  5. Individually, each student should fill in the adult epigenetics of the two fourth generation females.

Reflection (optional):
Students can select one of the two fourth generation females and write a short biography.  How was her body impacted by the lives of her great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother? How has her body been impacted by her own choices regarding diet and exercise?


Downloadable Lesson and Supporting Materials

Lesson Plans