The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Childhood Social Disadvantage, Cardiometabolic Risk, and Chronic Disease in Adulthood


1Anthropology, Vanderbilt University, 2Society, Human Development, and Health, Harvard University, 3Epidemiology, Brown University

Saturday 4:15-4:30, Ballroom B Add to calendar

Adverse childhood environments are thought to become biologically embedded during the first few years of life, potentially leading to dysregulation of multiple biological regulatory systems. Among the studies that have examined this question, many have relied on retrospective or limited information on the child’s social environment. Using prospective data from a subset (n’s ranging from 452-591) of a US birth cohort started in 1959-1966, the National Collaborative Perinatal Project, this study examines associations of social disadvantage in childhood with cardiometabolic function and chronic disease status over 40 years later. We constructed an index of social disadvantage using information about adverse socioeconomic and family stability factors experienced before age 7. We also constructed an index of cardiometabolic risk (CMR) based on 7 CMR biomarkers, and an index of chronic disease status, based on 8 chronic diseases. Poisson and logistic models were fit to investigate relevant associations, while adjusting for potential childhood confounders and pathway variables.

A high level of social disadvantage (≥ 5 factors) was significantly associated with both CMR (IRR=1.47, 95% CI:1.08, 2.00) and with increased number of chronic diseases (IRR: 1.4, 95% CI: 1.05, 1.86). Associations with CMR were even stronger among females (IRR: 1.87, 1.31, 2.68). These relationships were largely mediated by adult behavioral factors, such as depression and BMI, though the early social environment maintained an association with each outcome even after accounting for these factors. These findings highlight the importance of psychosocial stressors early in development, which may have maladaptive physiological consequences throughout the life course.

This research was supported by funding from Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholars Program at Harvard University.

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