Lower socioeconomic position (SEP) is associated with higher
adult BMI, suggests previous studies. But, whether those associations have changed over the past
decades was unclear.
Both childhood and adult socioeconomic position continue to be
associated with adult body mass index (BMI) in Britain despite policies
designed to reduce BMI inequalities, suggested to a study published in PLOS Medicine
by David Bann, from the UCL Institute of Education, UK, and colleagues.
‘The persistence of inequalities in BMI throughout adulthood across different generations suggests that new and/or improved strategies are required to reduce them.’
In the new study, researchers examined data on
22,810 people enrolled in three British birth cohort studies: the 1946
MRC National Survey of Health and Development, including people aged 20
to 64; the 1958 National Child Development Study, including people aged
23 to 50; and the 1970 British Birth Cohort Study, including people aged
26 to 42. Data were collected on each person's SEP as a child (based on
father's occupation) and adult (based on own occupation), and on their
BMI throughout adulthood.
Lower SEP in childhood was associated with higher adult BMI in both
genders and in all cohorts. This association increased with age - the
older someone got, the greater the influence of childhood SEP on BMI.
The association between adult SEP and BMI was generally stronger in
women than men and in more recent years, although not as individual
For example, among those born in 1946, 42-43 year-old women
in the lowest SEP group (unskilled occupations) had a BMI 2.0 kg/m2
higher than those in the highest SEP group (professional occupations);
among those born in 1970 that difference had grown to 3.9 kg/m2.
"The persistence of inequalities in BMI throughout adulthood across
different generations suggests that new and/or improved strategies are
required to reduce them," the authors say. "Given our findings of
progressively widening BMI inequalities across adulthood, and the fact
that BMI tends to track across life, interventions may be most effective
when initiated as early in life as possible."