Challenges in examining area effects across the life course on physical capability in mid-life: Findings from the 1946 British Birth Cohort

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A major limitation of past work linking area socioeconomic conditions to health in mid-life has been the reliance on single point in time measurement of area. Using the MRC National Survey of Health and Development, this study for the first time linked place of residence at three major life periods of childhood (1950), young adulthood (1972), and mid-life (1999) to area-socioeconomic data from the nearest census years. Using objective measures of physical capability as the outcome, the purpose of this study was to highlight four methodological challenges of attrition bias, secular changes in socio-economic measures, historical data availability, and changing reporting units over time. In general, standing balance and chair rise time showed clear cross-sectional associations with residing in areas with high deprivation. However, it was the process of overcoming the methodological challenges, which led to the conclusion that in this example percent low social class occupations was the most appropriate measure to use when extending cross-sectional analysis of standing balance and chair rise to life course investigation.

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