Exploring reasons for association of early life social circumstances and adult health
posted on: Jun 17, 2014
New research from the University of Glasgow has identified both socio-economic context (primary school & neighbourhood) and composition (individual and family) in early life as important indicators for adult health, even after accounting for current social position.
Early life exposures to adverse social circumstances are associated with adult health and disease, but little was known previously about the long term impacts of family and neighbourhood of residence in childhood on adult health. The environment of the school has been linked to current health and health behaviours of children but the longer term influence of school on adult health is not usually studied.
In the latest research, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, health and mental wellbeing was measured in 6285 adults from Aberdeen in Scotland. When they were about 9 years old in 1962, the type of area they lived in, type of school they attended and social circumstances of their families were measured. Results showed that over and above the individual circumstances, those children who lived in poorer areas as children had worse health as adults; the role of family was also important. There was little relationship with any childhood circumstances with mental wellbeing.
Ruth Dundas, senior investigator scientist at the MRC/CSO Social & Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, said “these associations of area of residence and school in childhood with subsequent adult health hold even after accounting for current adult social position. This shows that groups of individuals within school and neighbourhood are important over and above individuals alone. The family was also influential on adult health. It may be due to some aspect of family life – family structure or parenting style – that exerts a lasting effect on both health and mental wellbeing.”
This research was carried out using the Aberdeen Children of the 1950s study. The ‘Children of the 1950s’ study began in 1962 when researchers surveyed all the primary school children in Aberdeen aged 7-12 years. Study members were re-contacted in 2000 and were sent a postal questionnaire ascertaining adult health and circumstances.
The full paper can be found here (epub ahead of print).