Background Socio-economic influences over a lifetime impact on health and may contribute to poor physical functioning in old age.
Methods The authors examined the impact of both childhood and adulthood socio-economic factors on locomotor function at 63–86 years (measured with the get up and go timed walk and flamingo balance test) in the UK-based Boyd Orr (n=405) and Caerphilly (n=1196) prospective cohorts.
Results There was a marked reduction in walking speed and balance time with increasing age. Each year of age was associated with a 1.7% slower walk time and a 14% increased odds of poor balance. Participants who moved from a low socio-economic position in childhood to a high socio-economic position in adulthood had 3% slower walking times (95% CI −2% to 8%) than people with a high socio-economic position in both periods. Participants who moved from a high socio-economic position in childhood to a low adulthood socio-economic position had 5% slower walking times (95% CI −2% to 12%). Participants with a low socio-economic position in both periods had 10% slower walking times (95% CI 5% to 16%; p for trend <0.001). In Boyd Orr, low socio-economic position in childhood was associated with poor balance in old age (OR per worsening category=1.26; 95% CI 1.01 to 1.57; p=0.043), as was socio-economic position in adulthood (OR=1.71; 95% CI 1.20 to 2.45; p=0.003). Similar associations were not observed in Caerphilly.
Conclusion Accumulating socio-economic disadvantage from childhood to adulthood is associated with slower walking time in old age, with mixed results for balance ability.
- physical performance
- social class
- socio-economic factors
- physical function
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Funding The current analysis was funded by a Research into Ageing PhD studentship to KB (reference: 302). The Caerphilly Prospective Study was undertaken by the former MRC Epidemiology Unit (South Wales), and the Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, acts as the data custodian. The Boyd Orr cohort has received funding from the Medical Research Council, the World Cancer Research Fund, Research into Ageing, United Kingdom Survivors, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, and the British Heart Foundation. The Boyd Orr DNA bank was established with a grant from the Wellcome Trust (GR068468MA) and the follow-up clinics in 2002 were funded within a Wellcome Research Training Fellowship in Clinical Epidemiology to RMM (GR063779FR). RMM and YBS are both members of the HALCyon collaborative research group, part of the UK New Dynamics of Ageing cross-council research programme. DG is a NIHR senior investigator.
Competing interests None.
Ethics approval Ethics approval was provided by the Multicentre Research Ethics Committee for Scotland (Boyd Orr) and Ethics Committee of the Division of Medicine of the former South Glamorgan Area Health Authority and Gwent REC (CaPS).
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.