Background: Little evidence exists on the role of socio-economic position (SEP) in early life on adult disease other than for cardiovascular mortality; data is often retrospective. We assess whether childhood SEP influences disease risk in mid-life, separately from the effect of adult position, and establish how associations vary across multiple measures of disease risk.
Methods: Prospective follow-up to adulthood of all born in England, Scotland and Wales during 1 week in 1958, and with medical data at age 45 years (n = 9377). Outcomes include: blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), glycosylated haemoglobin (HbA1c), total and high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, triglycerides, fibrinogen, total immunoglobulin E (IgE), one-second forced expiratory volume (FEV1), hearing threshold (4 kHz), visual impairment, symptoms of depression and anxiety, chronic widespread pain.
Results: Social class in childhood was associated with blood pressure, BMI, HbA1c, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, fibrinogen, FEV1, hearing threshold, depressive symptoms and chronic widespread pain, with a general trend of deteriorating health from class I to V. Adult social class was also associated with these measures. Mutually adjusted analyses of child and adult social class suggest that both contribute to disease risk in mid-life: in general, associations for childhood class were as strong as for adult class. Individuals with a manual class at both time-points tended to have the greatest health deficits in adulthood.
Conclusions: Adverse SEP in childhood is associated with a poorer health profile in mid-adulthood, independently of adult social position, and across diverse measures of disease risk and physical and mental functioning.