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Int J Equity Health. 2014 May 7;13:35. doi: 10.1186/1475-9276-13-35.

Socioeconomic inequalities and body mass index in Västerbotten County, Sweden: a longitudinal study of life course influences over two decades.

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Centre for Population Studies, Ageing and Living Conditions Programme, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden.



Life course socioeconomic inequalities in heart disease, stroke and all-cause mortality are well studied in Sweden. However, few studies have sought to explain the mechanism for such associations mainly due to lack of longitudinal data with multiple measures of socioeconomic status (SES) across the life course. Given the population health concern about how socioeconomic inequality is related to poorer health, we aim to tackle obesity as one of the prime suspects that could explain the association between SES inequality and cardiovascular disease and consequently premature death. The aim of this study is to test which life course model best describes the association between socioeconomic disadvantage and obesity among 60 year old inhabitants of Västerbotten County in Northern Sweden.


A birth cohort consisting of 3340 individuals born between 1930 and 1932 was studied. Body mass index (BMI) at the age of 60 and information on socioeconomic status at three stages of life (ages 40, 50, and 60 years) was collected. Independent samples t-test was used to compare BMI between advantaged and disadvantaged groups and one-way ANOVA was used to compare BMI among eight SES trajectories. We applied a structured modeling approach to examine three different hypothesized life course SES models (accumulation, critical period, and social mobility) in relation to BMI.


We found sex differences in the way that late adulthood socioeconomic disadvantage is associated with BMI among inhabitants of Northern Sweden. Our study suggests that social adversity in all stages of late adulthood is a particularly important indicator for addressing the social gradients in BMI among women in Northern Sweden and that unhealthy behaviors in terms of smoking and physical inactivity are insufficient to explain the relationships between social and lifestyle inequalities and BMI.


In order for local authorities to develop informed preventive efforts, we suggest further research to identify modifiable risk factors across the life course which could explain this health inequality.

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