Socioeconomic differences in the benefits of structured physical activity compared with health education on the prevention of major mobility disability in older adults: the LIFE study

J Epidemiol Community Health. 2016 Sep;70(9):930-3. doi: 10.1136/jech-2016-207321. Epub 2016 Apr 8.


Background: Evidence is lacking on whether health-benefiting community-based interventions differ in their effectiveness according to socioeconomic characteristics. We evaluated whether the benefit of a structured physical activity intervention on reducing mobility disability in older adults differs by education or income.

Methods: The Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) study was a multicentre, randomised trial that compared a structured physical activity programme with a health education programme on the incidence of mobility disability among at-risk community-living older adults (aged 70-89 years; average follow-up of 2.6 years). Education (≤ high school (0-12 years), college (13-17 years) or postgraduate) and annual household income were self-reported (<$24 999, $25 000 to $49 999 and ≥$50 000). The risk of disability (objectively defined as loss of ability to walk 400 m) was compared between the 2 treatment groups using Cox regression, separately by socioeconomic group. Socioeconomic group×intervention interaction terms were tested.

Results: The effect of reducing the incidence of mobility disability was larger for those with postgraduate education (0.72, 0.51 to 1.03; N=411) compared with lower education (high school or less (0.93, 0.70 to 1.24; N=536). However, the education group×intervention interaction term was not statistically significant (p=0.54). Findings were in the same direction yet less pronounced when household income was used as the socioeconomic indicator.

Conclusions: In the largest and longest running trial of physical activity amongst at-risk older adults, intervention effect sizes were largest among those with higher education or income, yet tests of statistical interactions were non-significant, likely due to inadequate power.

Trial registration number: NCT01072500.


Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Disabled Persons
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Health Education*
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Motor Skills Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Walking

Associated data