The latest culprit of poor health and early death? Low socioeconomic status

LIFEPATH has sought to show that the healthy ageing already experienced by people with a high socioeconomic status can also be enjoyed by society as a whole. To do that, project partners have been examining the processes and mechanisms driving healthy ageing over the course of a person’s life. The project results are reported on CORDIS which is part of the EC's strategy for the dissemination and exploitation of research results.(CORDIS)

Lifepath is a research consortium funded by the European Commission under Horizon 2020 coordinated by Imperial College. After 4 years of work and more than 50 articles published in major scientific journals, we can summarize the results of the project in 7 key messages.

The role of socioeconomic status
The project team has now concluded that one’s socioeconomic position is an independent risk factor for premature mortality and physical functioning. Its importance, they claim, can be likened to that of common risk factors such as smoking, high alcohol consumption, poor nutrition and physical inactivity. According to their findings, smoking is responsible for the most years of life lost (4.8) followed by physical inactivity, which steals 2.4 years from a person’s life. A disadvantaged socioeconomic position follows closely behind, depriving people of 2.1 years of life, whereas high alcohol use takes away just half a year.

The researchers showed that low socioeconomic standing can lead to chronic psychosocial stress that can have long-term effects on a person’s body and health. What’s more, they found that poor health trajectories linked to disadvantaged circumstances start in early life and are well established by age three.

“Our epidemiological and biological data show that socio-economic disadvantage, expressed by income, education, housing or job position, accumulates from the very beginning of life due to several different kinds of exposures and circumstances, including psychosocial stress,” explained Michelle Kelly-Irving of project partner Inserm, Toulouse, in a press release posted on the project website. “The evidence from our project shows that this chronic stress may induce systemic inflammation in our bodies that leads to biological age acceleration, premature diseases and mortality in the most disadvantaged. Literally, poverty gets under the skin.” These findings highlight the importance of early intervention in order to promote healthy ageing.

LIFEPATH (Lifecourse biological pathways underlying social differences in healthy ageing) concludes at the end of April. Presented at the project’s final meeting in Geneva, results have the potential to provide insight to policymakers on the development of health, economic and social policies.

For more information, please see: LIFEPATH project