OBJECTIVE--To examine prospectively the relationship of childhood socioeconomic status and risk of cardiovascular disease in middle aged women. DESIGN--A prospective cohort of women with 14 years follow up data (1976-90). SUBJECTS--A total of 117,006 registered female nurses aged 30 to 55 years in 1976 and free of diagnosed coronary heart disease, stroke, and cancer at baseline. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--Incident fatal coronary heart disease, non-fatal myocardial infarction, and stroke (fatal and non-fatal). RESULTS--Low socioeconomic status in childhood was associated with a modestly increased risk of incident non-fatal myocardial infarction and total cardiovascular disease in adulthood. Compared with middle aged women from white collar childhood backgrounds, the age adjusted risk of total cardiovascular disease for women from blue collar backgrounds was 1.13 (95% CI 1.02, 1.24) and that of non-fatal myocardial infarction was 1.23 (95% CI 1.06, 1.42). No significant increase in risk was observed for stroke or fatal coronary heart disease. Adjustment for differences in family and personal past medical history, medication use, exercise, alcohol intake, diet, birth weight, being breastfed in infancy, and adult socioeconomic circumstance somewhat attenuated the increased risks observed for women from blue collar childhood socioeconomic backgrounds. In multivariate analysis, women whose fathers had been manual labourers had the highest relative risk of total coronary heart disease (RR = 1.53; 95% CI 1.09, 2.16) and non-fatal myocardial infarction (RR = 1.67; 95% CI 1.11, 2.53) when compared with women whose fathers had been employed in the professions. CONCLUSION--In this group lower childhood socioeconomic status was associated with a small but significant increase in the risk of total coronary heart disease as well as non-fatal myocardial infarction. For women from the most socioeconomically disadvantaged childhood backgrounds, the association is not explained by differences in a large number of cardiovascular risk factors, by differences in adult socioeconomic status, or by differences in indices of nutrition during gestation or infancy.
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