BACKGROUND: Early life is thought of as a foundation for health inequalities in adulthood. However, research directly examining the contribution of childhood circumstances to the integrated phenomenon of adult social inequalities in health is absent. The present study aimed to examine whether, and to what degree, social conditions during childhood explain income inequalities in metabolic syndrome in mid-adulthood.
METHODS: The sample (N = 12 481) comprised all 40- and 50-year-old participants in the Västerbotten Intervention Program in Northern Sweden 2008, 2009 and 2010. Measures from health examinations were used to operationalize metabolic syndrome, which was linked to register data including socioeconomic conditions at age 40-50 years, as well as childhood conditions at participant age 10-12 years. Income inequality in metabolic syndrome in middle age was estimated by the concentration index and decomposed by childhood and current socioeconomic conditions using decomposition analysis.
RESULTS: Childhood conditions jointed explained 7% (men) to 10% (women) of health inequalities in middle age. Adding mid-adulthood sociodemographic factors showed a dominant contribution of chiefly current income and educational level in both gender. In women, the addition of current factors slightly attenuated the contribution of childhood conditions, but with paternal income and education still contributing. In contrast, the corresponding addition in men removed all explanation attributable to childhood conditions.
CONCLUSIONS: Despite that the influence of early life conditions to adult health inequalities was considerably smaller than that of concurrent conditions, the study suggests that early interventions against social inequalities potentially could reduce health inequalities in the adult population for decades to come.
Metabolic syndrome; Early-life conditions; Income inequality; Decomposition analysis; Life course