BMC Public Health Research article Open Access Open Peer Review
Caroline Carney and Michaela Benzeval
Lung function is lower in people with disadvantaged socio-economic position (SEP) and is associated with hazardous health behaviours and exposures. The associations are likely to be interactive, for example, exposure to socially patterned environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) in childhood is associated with an increased effect of smoking in adulthood. We hypothesise that disadvantaged childhood SEP increases susceptibility to the effects of hazards in adulthood for lung function. We test whether disadvantaged childhood SEP moderates smoking, physical activity, obesity, occupational exposures, ETS and air pollution’s associations with lung function.
Data are from the Nurse Health Assessment (NHA) in waves two and three of the United Kingdom Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS). Analysis is restricted to English residents aged at least 20 for women and 25 for men, producing a study population of 16,339. Lung function is measured with forced expiratory volume in the first second (FEV1) and standardised to the percentage of expected FEV1 for a healthy non-smoker of equivalent age, gender, height and ethnicity (FEV1%). Using STATA 14, a mixed linear model was fitted with interaction terms between childhood SEP and health behaviours and occupational exposures. Cross level interactions tested whether childhood SEP moderated household ETS and neighbourhood air pollution’s associations with FEV1%.
SEP, smoking, physical activity, obesity, occupational exposures and air pollution were associated with lung function. Interaction terms indicated a significantly stronger negative association between disadvantaged childhood SEP and currently smoking (coefficient -6.47 %, 95% confidence intervals (CI): 9.51 %, 3.42 %) as well as with formerly smoking and occupational exposures. Significant interactions were not found with physical activity, obesity, ETS and air pollution.
The findings suggest that disadvantaged SEP in childhood may make people’s lung function more susceptible to the negative effects of smoking and occupational exposures in adulthood. This is important as those most likely to encounter these exposures are at greater risk to their effects. Policy to alleviate this inequality requires intervention in health behaviours through public health campaigns and in occupational health via health and safety legislation.