Background: Social mobility (movement up or down the social hierarchy) and social accumulation (accumulating social advantage or disadvantage) across the life-course have been shown to affect adult health. There is no evidence on how these processes simultaneously affect adult overweight and obesity.
Methods: Cross-sectional analysis using data from phase 5 of the Whitehall II study (1997-1999), including retrospective information on past socioeconomic position (SEP) for 4598 participants (44-69 years). The effect of social mobility and social accumulation, from childhood social class to educational attainment to current employment grade, on prevalent adult overweight and obesity was examined.
Results: Upwardly socially mobile participants did not have lower prevalence of overweight and obesity compared to the socially stable at low SEP (62.3 vs. 63.9% in women). Downwardly socially mobile participants had higher prevalence of overweight and obesity than the socially stable at high SEP (52.0% vs. 36.1% in women). The odds of adult overweight and obesity increased with social accumulation of disadvantage.
Among women, 1 life phase in low SEP was associated with 61% higher odds (1.61:1.05; 2.47), 2 phases low with 66% higher odds (1.66: 1.14; 2.42) and all phases low with 2.6 times the odds (2.61: 1.79; 3.78) of overweight and obesity compared to women with all phases in high SEP.
Conclusions: Social mobility and social accumulation can operate simultaneously across the life-course. Prevention of downward social mobility and social accumulation of disadvantage could reduce the overall prevalence of adult overweight and obesity.
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