Purpose: Adverse socioeconomic circumstances in childhood may confer a greater risk for adult cardiovascular disease (CVD). The purpose of this review is to systematically evaluate evidence for an association between socioeconomic circumstances during childhood and specific CVD subtypes, independent of adult socioeconomic conditions.
Methods: We systematically retrieved individual-level studies of morbidity and mortality from CVD and specific CVD subtypes linked to early life influences, including coronary heart disease (CHD), ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke, peripheral vascular disease, markers of atherosclerosis (carotid intima-media thickness and stenosis), and rheumatic heart disease. Indicators of socioeconomic position in childhood varied, although most studies relied on father's occupation.
Results: We located 40 studies (24 prospective, 11 case-control, and 5 cross-sectional) reported in 50 publications. Thirty-one studies (19 prospective, 7 case-control, and all 5 cross-sectional) found a robust inverse association between childhood circumstances and CVD risk, although findings sometimes varied among specific outcomes, socioeconomic measures, and sex. Case-control studies reported mixed results. The association was stronger for stroke and, in particular, hemorrhagic stroke, than for CHD. Childhood socioeconomic conditions remained important predictors of CVD, even in younger cohorts.
Conclusion: Childhood and adulthood socioeconomic circumstances are important determinants of CVD risk. The specific contribution of childhood and adulthood characteristics varies across different CVD subtypes. Disease-specific mechanisms are likely to explain the childhood origins of these adult health inequalities.