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Disadvantaged early-life conditions and respiratory function

New SHARE-based study examines whether growing up in disadvantageous socioeconomic conditions affects lung function in later life

(October 2018) As one of the health risk factors associated with old age, poor lung function represents a predisposition toward developing chronic diseases and thus hampering the quality of life. While the clinical causes of low respiratory function are well described, the life-course factors increasing the risk of limited lung functioning are yet to be explored. Cheval et al. therefore examine whether growing up in disadvantageous socioeconomic circumstances affects the respiratory function in old age.

Data from 14 countries

Using data from the second, fourth and sixth waves of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), the authors investigated if the lung function in old age (objectively assessed using peak expiratory flow) is associated with childhood socioeconomic circumstances. Overall, 21,734 participants aged 50-96 from 14 European countries were included in the final sample.

Growing up in unfavourable conditions hampers lung functioning

As hypothesised, Cheval et al. find that growing up in disadvantageous socioeconomic conditions is associated with decreased respiratory function. In adult life, lower educational attainment, a disadvantaged occupational position and lower satisfaction with the financial situation of the household were also associated with worsened peak expiratory flow. Additionally, the authors observed that childhood socioeconomic circumstances significantly influenced lung functioning in old age, independently of adult-life factors such as smoking, body-mass index, physical inactivity and adult-life socioeconomic status. These results indicate that even advantageous adult-life conditions cannot fully compensate for adverse exposures during childhood.

Key role of socially patterned events in early life

As previous SHARE-based studies have also been able to demonstrate, the outcomes presented by the team led by Stéphane Cullati highlight the long-term influence of childhood circumstances. Considering the adverse and chronic health effects of a suboptimal respiratory function, this analysis suggests that early-life interventions could be beneficial. “Efforts to prevent chronic respiratory diseases should further consider the key role played by socially patterned events arising early in life”, Cheval et al. conclude.

Study by Boris Cheval, Clovis Chabert, Dan Orsholits, Stefan Sieber, Idris Guessous, David Blane, Matthias Kliegel, Jean-Paul Janssens, Claudine Burton-Jeangros, Christophe Pison, Delphine S. Courvoisier, Matthieu P. Boisgontier and Stéphane Cullati (2018): Disadvantaged Early-Life Socioeconomic Circumstances Are Associated With Low Respiratory Function in Older Age. The Journals of Gerontology Series A (online first).


Foto: Fotolia / Iryna