Background Muscle weakness is a key criterion for important age-related conditions including sarcopenia and frailty. Research suggests lower childhood socioeconomic position (SEP) contributes to muscle weakness in later life but there is little evidence in younger adults closer to peak muscle strength from more recently born cohorts. We aimed to examine the relationships between indicators of SEP in childhood and adulthood and grip strength at age 46 years.
Methods A total of 3,113 men and 3,132 women from the 1970 British Cohort study, with data on paternal occupational class and parental education levels at age 5 and own occupational class, education level, grip strength and covariates including height, body mass index and occupational activity at age 46, were included in analyses. Interactions between sex and each SEP indicator were formally assessed, and models were sex-stratified if evidence of interaction was found. Linear regression models were used to test associations of childhood and adulthood SEP with maximum grip strength.
Results Among women, there was evidence of associations between lower SEP in childhood and adulthood and weaker grip strength. For example, women whose fathers were in the lowest occupational classes had 1.14kg (95%CI: -1.74,-0.54) weaker grip strength than women whose fathers were in the highest occupational classes, and these associations were not fully explained by covariates (fully-adjusted regression coefficient: -0.81kg (-1.39,-0.22)). Among men, different patterns of association were observed (p-values for sex interactions <0.05). In unadjusted models, lower SEP in both childhood and adulthood was associated with stronger grip, and these associations strengthened after adjustment for height. For example, men whose fathers were in the lowest occupational classes had stronger grip strength 1.01kg (0.04,1.98) than men whose fathers were in the highest occupational classes. After adjustment for occupational activity most associations in men were fully attenuated although an association between own lower educational levels and stronger grip remained.
Conclusion For women, lower SEP was associated with weaker grip strength suggesting that strategies to reduce women’s exposure to socioeconomic adversity across life are likely to be beneficial for their peak grip strength. For men, lower SEP appears to be associated with stronger grip strength at age 46 years related to higher levels of occupational activity. As there is evidence from other studies that the association between SEP and grip strength reverses in later life this suggests strategies may be needed to help men of lower SEP maintain this midlife advantage as they age and retire.
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