Influence of life course socioeconomic position on older women's health behaviors: findings from the British Women's Heart and Health Study

Am J Public Health. 2009 Feb;99(2):320-7. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2007.129288. Epub 2008 Dec 4.


Objectives: We examined the association between health behaviors and socioeconomic status (SES) in childhood and adult life.

Methods: Self-reported diet, smoking, and physical activity were determined among 3523 women aged 60 to 79 years recruited from general practices in 23 British towns from 1999 through 2001.

Results: The most affluent women reported eating more fruit, vegetables, chicken, and fish and less red or processed meat than did less affluent women. Affluent women were less likely to smoke and more likely to exercise. Life course SES did not influence the types of fat, bread, and milk consumed. Adult SES predicted consumption of all foods considered and predicted smoking and physical activity habits independently of childhood SES. Childhood SES predicted fruit and vegetable consumption independently of adult SES and, to a lesser extent, predicted physical activity. Downward social mobility over the life course was associated with poorer diets and reduced physical activity.

Conclusions: Among older women, healthful eating and physical activity were associated with both current and childhood SES. Interventions designed to improve social inequalities in health behaviors should be applied during both childhood and adult life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Surveys*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Population Growth
  • Smoking
  • Social Class*
  • Social Mobility
  • United Kingdom
  • Women's Health*