Background: Data on the relationship between plasma levels of cholesterol and triglycerides and social class have been inconsistent. Most previous studies have used one classification of social class.
Methods: This was a cross-sectional population based study with data on occupational social class, educational level obtained using a detailed health and lifestyle questionnaire. A total of 10,147 men and 12,304 women aged 45-80 years living in Norfolk, United Kingdom, were recruited using general practice age-sex registers as part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC-Norfolk). Plasma levels of cholesterol and triglycerides were measured in baseline samples. Social class was classified according to three classifications: occupation, educational level, and area deprivation score according to Townsend deprivation index. Differences in lipid levels by socio-economic status indices were quantified by analysis of variance (ANOVA) and multiple linear regression after adjusting for body mass index and alcohol consumption.
Results: Total cholesterol levels were associated with occupational level among men, and with educational level among women. Triglyceride levels were associated with educational level and occupational level among women, but the latter association was lost after adjustment for age and body mass index. HDL-cholesterol levels were associated with both educational level and educational level among men and women. The relationships with educational level were substantially attenuated by adjustment for age, body mass index and alcohol use, whereas the association with educational class was retained upon adjustment. LDL-cholesterol levels were not associated with social class indices among men, but a positive association was observed with educational class among women. This association was not affected by adjustment for age, body mass index and alcohol use.
Conclusions: The findings of this study suggest that there are sex differences in the association between socio-economic status and serum lipid levels. The variations in lipid profile with socio-economic status may be largely attributed to potentially modifiable factors such as obesity, physical activity and dietary intake.