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Int J Obes (Lond). 2013 Mar;37(3):439-47. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2012.64. Epub 2012 May 8.

Childhood socioeconomic position, adult socioeconomic position and social mobility in relation to markers of adiposity in early adulthood: evidence of differential effects by gender in the 1978/79 Ribeirao Preto cohort study.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, UK.



Longitudinal studies drawn from high-income countries demonstrate long-term associations of early childhood socioeconomic deprivation with increased adiposity in adulthood. However, there are very few data from resource-poor countries where there are reasons to anticipate different gradients. Accordingly, we sought to characterise the nature of the socioeconomic status (SES)-adiposity association in Brazil.


We use data from the Ribeirao Preto Cohort Study in Brazil in which 9067 newborns were recruited via their mothers in 1978/79 and one-in-three followed up in 2002/04 (23-25years). SES, based on family income (salaries, interest on savings, pensions and so on), was assessed at birth and early adulthood, and three different adiposity measures (body mass index (BMI), waist circumference (WC), waist-to-hip ratio (WHR)) ascertained at follow-up. The association between childhood SES, adult SES and social mobility (defined as four permutations of SES in childhood and adulthood: low-low, low-high, high-low, high-high), and the adiposity measures was examined using linear regression.


There was evidence that the association between SES and the three markers of adiposity was modified by gender in both adulthood (P<0.02 for all outcomes) and childhood SES (P<0.02 for WC and WHR). Thus, in an unadjusted model, linear regression analyses showed that higher childhood SES was associated with lower adiposity in women (coefficient (95% confidence intervals) BMI: -1.49 (-2.29,-0.69); WC: -3.85 (-5.73,-1.97); WHR: -0.03 (-0.04,-0.02)). However, in men, higher childhood SES was related to higher adiposity (BMI: 1.03 (0.28,-1.78); WC: 3.15 (1.20, 5.09); WHR: 0.009 (-0.001, 0.019)) although statistical significance was not seen in all analyses. There was a suggestion that adult SES (but not adult health behaviours or birthweight) accounted for these relationships in women only. Upward mobility was associated with protection against greater adiposity in women but not men.


In the present study, in men there was some evidence that both higher childhood and adulthood SES was related to a higher adiposity risk, while the reverse gradient was apparent in women.

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