Understanding associations of early-life adversities with mid-life inflammatory profiles: Evidence from the UK and USA

Brain Behav Immun. 2019 May;78:143-152. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2019.01.016. Epub 2019 Jan 22.


Objectives: In two cohorts, we aimed to establish associations between early-life adversities and adult inflammation, and whether adult (a) adiposity or (b) socioeconomic disadvantage are key intermediaries.

Methods: In both cohorts (N = 7661, 1958 British birth cohort; N = 1255, MIDUS), information was used on adult inflammatory markers (C-reactive protein (CRP), fibrinogen and (MIDUS only) interleukin-6 (IL-6)), adiposity and socioeconomic disadvantage, and early-life adversities (neglect, emotional neglect, physical, psychological, sexual abuse and childhood disadvantage).

Results: Early-life adversities varied from 1.6% (sexual abuse, 1958 cohort) to 14.3% (socioeconomic disadvantage, MIDUS). Across the two cohorts, associations were consistent for physical abuse, e.g. 16.3%(3.01,29.7) and 17.0%(-16.4,50.3) higher CRP in the 1958 cohort and MIDUS respectively. Associations attenuated after accounting for adult adiposity, e.g. physical abuse (1958 cohort) and sexual abuse (MIDUS, non-white participants) associations were abolished. Some associations attenuated after adjustment for adult socioeconomic disadvantage; e.g. 1958 cohort neglect-CRP associations reduced from 23.2%(13.7,32.6) to 17.7%(8.18,27.2). Across the cohorts, no associations were found for psychological abuse or emotional neglect; associations for childhood socioeconomic disadvantage were inconsistent.

Conclusions: Specific early-life adversities are associated with adult inflammation; adiposity is a likely intermediary factor. Weight reduction and obesity prevention may offset pro-inflammatory related adult disease among those who experienced early-life adversities.

Keywords: Adiposity; Child abuse; Cohort study; Epidemiology; Inflammation; Neglect.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity / immunology
  • Adiposity / physiology
  • Adult
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences / trends*
  • C-Reactive Protein / analysis
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Fibrinogen / analysis
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / blood
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Interleukin-6 / analysis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • United Kingdom
  • United States


  • Interleukin-6
  • Fibrinogen
  • C-Reactive Protein