Does childhood health affect chronic morbidity in later life?

Soc Sci Med. 2001 Apr;52(8):1269-84. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(00)00230-6.


Our analysis examines whether childhood health has long-term and enduring consequences for chronic morbidity. As a part of this analysis, we address two methodological issues of concern in the literature. Is adult height a surrogate for childhood health experiences in modeling chronic disease in later life? And, are the effects of adult socioeconomic status on chronic disease overestimated when childhood health is not accounted for? The analysis is based on a topical module to the third wave of the Health and Retirement Study, a representative survey of Americans aged 55-65 in 1996. Our results support the hypothesis that poor childhood health increases morbidity in later life. This association was found for cancer, lung disease, cardiovascular conditions, and arthritis/rheumatism. The associations were highly persistent in the face of statistical controls for both adult and childhood socioeconomic status. No support was found for using adult height as a proxy for the effects of childhood health experiences. Further, the effects of adult socioeconomic status were not overestimated when childhood health was excluded from the explanatory models. Our results point to the importance of an integrated health care policy based on the premise of maximizing health over the entire life cycle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Autoimmune Diseases / complications
  • Body Height / physiology
  • Child
  • Child Welfare / statistics & numerical data*
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology*
  • Communicable Diseases / complications
  • Cultural Deprivation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Morbidity*
  • Prevalence
  • Retirement
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States / epidemiology