Background Recent work has shown that factors across the whole of life influence physical capability in later life. Therefore, when investigating area socioeconomic effects on physical capability, area exposures should be assessed across the lifecourse to take account changes in residence and secular trends of an area.
Methods Using data from the MRC National Survey of Health and Development, we examined the relationship between area low social class (per cent partly- or un-skilled of all occupied in a local government district) at ages 4, 26, and 53 years [residence linked to census data for years 1951, 1971, and 2001) with objective measures of physical capability (grip strength, standing balance and chair rise time) at age 53 years.
Results After adjustment for area at other years, a higher area low social class at 4 and 53 years was associated with decline in mean balance time of 4.4% (95% CI 0.6 to 8.1) and 7.6% (3.6 to 11.6), respectively, but only area at age 53 with higher chair rise time [mean change 1.8% (95% CI 0.0 to 3.6) at 53 years. Associations were reduced but still apparent after adjustment for individual occupational social class at the same three ages. There were no significant associations between area and grip strength.
Conclusions For the first time, our study shows that living in a socioeconomically deprived area in early and later life adversely affect some measures of physical capability in mid-life. Future work is needed to explore potential mechanisms of area effects by age and physical capability measures.
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