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      Socioeconomic Differences in Cardiometabolic Factors: Social Causation or Health-related Selection? Evidence From the Whitehall II Cohort Study, 1991–2004

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          Abstract

          In this study, the health-related selection hypothesis (that health predicts social mobility) and the social causation hypothesis (that socioeconomic status influences health) were tested in relation to cardiometabolic factors. The authors screened 8,312 United Kingdom men and women 3 times over 10 years between 1991 and 2004 for waist circumference, body mass index, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, fasting glucose, fasting insulin, serum lipids, C-reactive protein, and interleukin-6; identified participants with the metabolic syndrome; and measured childhood health retrospectively. Health-related selection was examined in 2 ways: 1) childhood health problems as predictors of adult occupational position and 2) adult cardiometabolic factors as predictors of subsequent promotion at work. Social causation was assessed using adult occupational position as a predictor of subsequent change in cardiometabolic factors. Hospitalization during childhood and lower birth weight were associated with lower occupational position (both P’s ≤ 0.002). Cardiometabolic factors in adulthood did not consistently predict promotion. In contrast, lower adult occupational position predicted adverse changes in several cardiometabolic factors (waist circumference, body mass index, fasting glucose, and fasting insulin) and an increased risk of new-onset metabolic syndrome (all P’s ≤ 0.008). These findings suggest that health-related selection operates at younger ages and that social causation contributes to socioeconomic differences in cardiometabolic health in midlife.

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          Most cited references 39

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          Income inequality and population health: a review and explanation of the evidence.

          Whether or not the scale of a society's income inequality is a determinant of population health is still regarded as a controversial issue. We decided to review the evidence and see if we could find a consistent interpretation of both the positive and negative findings. We identified 168 analyses in 155 papers reporting research findings on the association between income distribution and population health, and classified them according to how far their findings supported the hypothesis that greater income differences are associated with lower standards of population health. Analyses in which all adjusted associations between greater income equality and higher standards of population health were statistically significant and positive were classified as "wholly supportive"; if none were significant and positive they were classified as "unsupportive"; and if some but not all were significant and supportive they were classified as "partially supportive". Of those classified as either wholly supportive or unsupportive, a large majority (70 per cent) suggest that health is less good in societies where income differences are bigger. There were substantial differences in the proportion of supportive findings according to whether inequality was measured in large or small areas. We suggest that the studies of income inequality are more supportive in large areas because in that context income inequality serves as a measure of the scale of social stratification, or how hierarchical a society is. We suggest three explanations for the unsupportive findings reported by a minority of studies. First, many studies measured inequality in areas too small to reflect the scale of social class differences in a society; second, a number of studies controlled for factors which, rather than being genuine confounders, are likely either to mediate between class and health or to be other reflections of the scale of social stratification; and third, the international relationship was temporarily lost (in all but the youngest age groups) during the decade from the mid-1980s when income differences were widening particularly rapidly in a number of countries. We finish by discussing possible objections to our interpretation of the findings.
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            The lasting impact of childhood health and circumstance.

            We quantify the lasting effects of childhood health and economic circumstances on adult health, employment and socioeconomic status, using data from a birth cohort that has been followed from birth into middle age. Controlling for parental income, education and social class, children who experience poor health have significantly lower educational attainment, poorer health, and lower social status as adults. Childhood health and circumstance appear to operate both through their impact on initial adult health and economic status, and through a continuing direct effect of prenatal and childhood health in middle age. Overall, our findings suggest more attention be paid to health as a potential mechanism through which intergenerational transmission of economic status takes place: cohort members born into poorer families experienced poorer childhood health, lower investments in human capital and poorer health in early adulthood, all of which are associated with lower earnings in middle age-the years in which they themselves become parents.
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              Health inequalities among British civil servants: the Whitehall II study.

              The Whitehall study of British civil servants begun in 1967, showed a steep inverse association between social class, as assessed by grade of employment, and mortality from a wide range of diseases. Between 1985 and 1988 we investigated the degree and causes of the social gradient in morbidity in a new cohort of 10,314 civil servants (6900 men, 3414 women) aged 35-55 (the Whitehall II study). Participants were asked to answer a self-administered questionnaire and attend a screening examination. In the 20 years separating the two studies there has been no diminution in social class difference in morbidity: we found an inverse association between employment grade and prevalence of angina, electrocardiogram evidence of ischaemia, and symptoms of chronic bronchitis. Self-perceived health status and symptoms were worse in subjects in lower status jobs. There were clear employment-grade differences in health-risk behaviours including smoking, diet, and exercise, in economic circumstances, in possible effects of early-life environment as reflected by height, in social circumstances at work (eg, monotonous work characterised by low control and low satisfaction), and in social supports. Healthy behaviours should be encouraged across the whole of society; more attention should be paid to the social environments, job design, and the consequences of income inequality.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Am J Epidemiol
                amjepid
                aje
                American Journal of Epidemiology
                Oxford University Press
                0002-9262
                1476-6256
                01 October 2011
                3 August 2011
                3 August 2011
                : 174
                : 7
                : 779-789
                Author notes
                [* ]Correspondence to Dr. Marko Elovainio, National Institute for Health and Welfare, P.O. Box 30, Mannerheimintie 166, FI-00271 Helsinki, Finland (e-mail: marko.elovainio@ 123456thl.fi ).
                Article
                10.1093/aje/kwr149
                3176829
                21813793
                American Journal of Epidemiology © The Author 2011. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.5), which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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