Do the wealthy have a health advantage? Cardiovascular disease risk factors and wealth

Soc Sci Med. 2010 Dec;71(11):1935-42. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.09.027. Epub 2010 Oct 21.


The use of wealth as a measure of socioeconomic status (SES) remains uncommon in epidemiological studies. When used, wealth is often measured crudely and at a single point in time. Our study explores the relationship between wealth and three cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors (smoking, obesity and hypertension) in a US population. We improve upon existing literature by using a detailed and validated measure of wealth in a longitudinal setting. We used four waves of data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) collected between 1999 and 2005. Inverse probability weights were employed to control for time-varying confounding and to estimate both relative (risk ratio) and absolute (risk difference) measures of effect. Wealth was defined as inflation-adjusted net worth and specified as a six category variable: one category for those with less than or equal to zero wealth and quintiles of positive wealth. After adjusting for income and other time-varying confounders, as well as baseline covariates, the risk of becoming obese was inversely related to wealth. There was a 40%-89% higher risk of becoming obese among the less wealthy relative to the wealthiest quintile and 11 to 25 excess cases (per 1000 persons) among the less wealthy groups over six years of follow up. Smoking initiation had similar but more moderate effects; risk ratios and differences both revealed a smaller magnitude of effect compared to obesity. Of the three CVD risk factors examined here, hypertension incidence had the weakest association with wealth, showing a smaller increased risk and fewer excess cases among the less wealthy groups. In conclusion, this study found a strong inverse association between wealth and obesity incidence, a moderate inverse association between wealth and smoking initiation and a weak inverse association between wealth and hypertension incidence after controlling for income and other time-varying confounders.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / epidemiology*
  • Incidence
  • Income / statistics & numerical data
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Social Class*
  • United States / epidemiology