Social disadvantages in childhood and risk of all-cause death and cardiovascular disease in later life: a comparison of historical and retrospective childhood information

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Childhood socioeconomic circumstances have been shown to contribute to adult mortality. The purpose of this study was to compare the association between objective historical records and recalled questionnaire-based information on childhood socioeconomic position (SEP) with regard to cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.


We examined the association between a socially disadvantaged childhood and all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality, coronary heart disease (CHD) mortality, and acute coronary events among male participants in the Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease (KIHD) Risk Factor Study, a population-based cohort study in eastern Finland with follow-up until 2002. The historical data on childhood factors were collected from school health records (n=698), mainly from the 1930s to the 1950s. Recall data on socioeconomic conditions in childhood were obtained from the baseline examinations of the KIHD cohort (n=2682) in 1984–89.


According to original school health records the men who were socially disadvantaged in childhood had a 1.41-fold (95% confidence interval 1.01–1.97) age-adjusted and examination-year-adjusted risk of all-cause death, a 1.32-fold (0.83–2.11) risk of CVD death, a 1.48-fold (0.85–2.57) risk of CHD death, and a 1.50-fold (1.02–2.20) risk of acute coronary events. After adjustment for biological and behavioural risk factors and for the SEP in adulthood the association was attenuated in all-cause death but did not change in CVD death, CHD death, and acute coronary events. On the contrary, the questionnaire-based recalled childhood data on childhood SEP showed no associations with mortality or acute coronary events.


With regard to adult mortality, the use of historical records concerning hygiene and living conditions collected in childhood may either provide more accurate measures of early-life socioeconomic conditions or capture more relevant aspects of childhood socioeconomic disadvantage than retrospective recall data.

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