Do different measures of early life socioeconomic circumstances predict adult mortality? Evidence from the British Whitehall II and French GAZEL studies

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Abstract

Background

Father's occupational position, education and height have all been used to examine the effects of adverse early life socioeconomic circumstances on health, but it remains unknown whether they predict mortality equally well.

Methods

We used pooled data on 18 393 men and 7060 women from the Whitehall II and GAZEL cohorts to examine associations between early life socioeconomic circumstances and all-cause and cause-specific mortality.

Results

During the 20-y follow-up period, 1487 participants died. Education had a monotonic association with all mortality outcomes; the age, sex and cohort-adjusted HR for the lowest versus the highest educational group was 1.45 (95% CI 1.24 to 1.69) for all-cause mortality. There was evidence of a U-shaped association between height and all-cause, cancer and cardiovascular mortality robust to adjustment for the other indicators (HR 1.41, 95% CI 1.03 to 1.93 for those shorter than average and HR 1.36, 95% CI 0.98 to 1.88 for those taller than average for cardiovascular mortality). Greater all-cause and cancer mortality was observed in participants whose father's occupational position was manual rather than non-manual (HR 1.11, 95% CI 1.00 to 1.23 for all-cause mortality), but the risks were attenuated after adjusting for education and height.

Conclusions

The association between early life socioeconomic circumstances and mortality depends on the socioeconomic indicator used and the cause of death examined. Height is not a straightforward measure of early life socioeconomic circumstances as taller people do not have a health advantage for all mortality outcomes.

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