Role of cardiovascular health factors in mediating social inequalities in the incidence of dementia in the UK: two prospective, population-based cohort studies

EClinicalMedicine. 2024 Mar 14:70:102539. doi: 10.1016/j.eclinm.2024.102539. eCollection 2024 Apr.


Background: The contribution of modifiable risk factors to social inequalities in dementia, observed in longitudinal studies, remains unclear. We aimed to quantify the role of cardiovascular health factors, assessed using Life's Essential 8 (LE8) score, in mediating social inequalities in incidence of dementia and, for comparison, in incidence of stroke, coronary heart disease, and mortality.

Methods: In this prospective, population-based cohort study, we collected data from the UK Whitehall II Study and UK Biobank databases. Participants were included if data were available on SEP, outcomes and LE8 (smoking, physical activity, diet, body mass index, blood pressure, fasting blood glucose, lipid levels, sleep duration). The primary outcome was incident dementia and secondary outcomes were stroke, coronary heart disease, and mortality. Outcomes were derived from electronic healthcare records. Socioeconomic position (SEP) was measured by occupation in Whitehall II and education in UK Biobank. Counterfactual mediation analysis was used to quantify the extent to which LE8 score explained the associations of SEP with all outcomes. Analyses involved Cox regression, accelerated failure time models, and linear regression; and were adjusted for age, sex, and ethnicity.

Findings: Between 10.09.1985 and 29.03.1988, a total of 9688 participants (mean age ± SD 44.9 ± 6.0; 67% men) from the Whitehall II study, and between 19.12.2006 and 01.10.2010, 278,215 participants (mean age ± SD 56.0 ± 8.1; 47% men) from the UK Biobank were included. There were 606 and 4649 incident dementia cases over a median (interquartile range) follow-up of 31.7 (31.1-32.7) and 13.5 (12.7-14.1) years respectively in Whitehall II and UK Biobank. In Whitehall II, the hazard ratio was 1.85 [95% CI 1.42, 2.32] for the total effect of SEP on dementia and 1.20 [1.12, 1.28] for the indirect effect via the LE8, the proportion mediated being 36%. In UK Biobank, the total effect of SEP on dementia was 1.65 [1.54, 1.78]; the indirect effect was 1.11 [1.09, 1.12], and the proportion mediated was 24%. The proportions mediated for stroke, coronary heart disease, and mortality were higher, ranging between 34% and 63% in Whitehall II and between 36% and 50% in UK Biobank.

Interpretation: In two well-characterised cohort studies, up to one third of the social inequalities in incidence of dementia was attributable to cardiovascular health factors. Promotion of cardiovascular health in midlife may contribute to reducing social inequalities in risk of dementia, in addition to cardiovascular diseases and all-cause mortality. This study used adult measures of SEP, further research is warranted using lifecourse measures of SEP.

Funding: NIH (RF1AG062553).

Keywords: Counterfactual mediation; Dementia; Life's Essential 8 score; Social economic inequalities.