J Epidemiol Community Health 66:512-518 doi:10.1136/jech.2010.115220
  • Chronic diseases

Childhood social class and adult adiposity and blood-pressure trajectories 36–53 years: gender-specific results from a British birth cohort

Open Access
  1. Diana Kuh1
  1. 1MRC National Survey of Health and Development, MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing, London, UK
  2. 2Laboratory of Epidemiology, Demography, and Biometry, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Bjørn Heine Strand, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Marcus Thranes gt 6, PO Box 4404 Nydalen, Oslo 0403, Norway; heine{at}
  • Accepted 30 October 2010
  • Published Online First 23 November 2010


Background In this study, the authors investigate gender-specific effects of childhood socio-economic position (SEP) on adiposity and blood pressure at three time points in adulthood.

Methods Mixed models were used to assess the association of childhood SEP with body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, systolic blood pressure (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) at ages 36, 43 and 53 years in a British birth cohort.

Results The adverse effect of lower childhood SEP on adiposity increased between ages 36 and 53 years in women (BMI: trend test: p=0.03) and remained stable in men, but the opposite was seen for SBP, where inequalities increased in men (p=0.01). Childhood SEP inequalities in DBP were stable with age in both men and women. Educational attainment mediated some but not all of the effects of childhood SEP on adiposity and SBP, and their rate of change; adult social class was a less important mediator.

Conclusion Childhood SEP is important for adult adiposity and blood pressure across midlife, especially for BMI in women and for blood pressure in men. Thus, pathways to adult health differ for men and women, and public health policies aimed at reducing social inequalities need to start early in life and take account of gender.


  • Funding The manuscript is funded by MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing in UK and supported in part by the Intramural Research Program, National Institute on Aging, NIH in USA, and the Research Council of Norway.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval Ethics approval was provided by the Multicentre Research Ethics Committee (MREC) approval.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non commercial and is otherwise in compliance with the license. See: and