New UCLA study develops links between socioeconomic status and poor health

December 16, 2004

BACKGROUND: Previous studies have shown a connection between health and socioeconomic status (SES), demonstrating higher instances of heart disease, cancer and other evidence of poor health in those lower in the economic scale. The question is why, and how early in life these effects begin taking shape.

FINDINGS: Focusing on 18- to 30-year-old study participants, the researchers examined blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol over 10 years to determine how they changed. The findings suggest that individuals with high overall cardiovascular risk in midlife can be identified by relatively higher risk factors when they are younger. They found also that young people from families with a lower SES experienced greater increases in those risk factors than people higher on the scale. Also, the researchers found that the effect of SES on risk accumulation is stronger in women than in men, and stronger in blacks than in whites.

IMPACT: This is the first study to look at aggregate risk scores composed of multiple risk factors; to follow changes in multiple risk factors over 10 years in people in this age group; to look at the effects of SES in both white and black young adults; to examine the effects of changing one's SES on overall cardiovascular risk; and the first to find that the effects of SES on overall cardiovascular risk in young adults are not due solely to differences in access to medical care or in smoking and exercise. Differences in levels of stress in daily life may explain these effects. According to UCLA researchers, there is hope for people in low SES: Improving one's SES was found to be associated with improvement in risk profiles.

AUTHORS: Lead author is Arun S. Karlamangla, assistant professor of medicine in the division of geriatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

JOURNAL: Social Science & Medicine, Vol. 60, No. 5, March 2005. It is also now available online at doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2004.06.056

FUNDERS: National Institutes of Health (National Institute on Aging and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute) and the MacArthur Foundation

University of California - Los Angeles

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