University of Oulu

Lowry, E., Rautio, N., Wasenius, N. et al. Early exposure to social disadvantages and later life body mass index beyond genetic predisposition in three generations of Finnish birth cohorts. BMC Public Health 20, 708 (2020).

Early exposure to social disadvantages and later life body mass index beyond genetic predisposition in three generations of Finnish birth cohorts

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Author: Lowry, Estelle1,2,3; Rautio, Nina1,4; Wasenius, Niko5,6;
Organizations: 1Center for Life Course Health Research, University of Oulu, P.O.Box 5000, Fin-90014, Oulu, Finland
2Biocenter Oulu, University of Oulu, P.O.Box 8000, Fin-90014, Oulu, Finland
3School of Natural and Built Environment, Queen’s University Belfast, Elmwood Avenue Belfast, Belfast, BT7 1NN, UK
4Unit of Primary Health Care, Oulu University Hospital, P.O.Box 10, 90029 OYS, Oulu, Finland
5Folkhälsan Research Center, Haartmanninkatu 8, 00290, Helsinki, Finland
6Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 20, 00014, Helsinki, Finland
7Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Imperial College, London, SW7 2AZ, UK
8Department of Psychology and Logopedics, University of Helsinki, P.O.Box 63, 00014, Helsinki, Finland
9Turku Institute for Advanced Studies, University of Turku, FI-20014, Turku, Finland
10Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology, University of Ioannina Medical School, 45110, Ioannina, Greece
11Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, MRC-PHE Centre for Environment and Health, School of Public Health, Imperial College London, London, W2 1PG, UK
12Medical Research Center Oulu, Oulu University Hospital and University of Oulu, P.O. Box 8000, FI-90014, Oulu, Finland
13Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, National University of Singapore, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, Singapore, SG, Singapore
14Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, Agency for Science, Technology, and Research, Singapore, Singapore
15Department of Genomics, Imperial College London, London, SW7 2AZ, UK
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.4 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2020
Publish Date: 2020-07-08


Background: The study aimed to explore the association between early life and life-course exposure to social disadvantage and later life body mass index (BMI) accounting for genetic predisposition and maternal BMI.

Methods: We studied participants of Helsinki Birth Cohort Study born in 1934–1944 (HBCS1934–1944, n = 1277) and Northern Finland Birth Cohorts born in 1966 and 1986 (NFBC1966, n = 5807, NFBC1986, n = 6717). Factor analysis produced scores of social disadvantage based on social and economic elements in early life and adulthood/over the life course, and was categorized as high, intermediate and low. BMI was measured at 62 years in HBCS1934–1944, at 46 years in NFBC1966 and at 16 years in NFBC1986. Multivariable linear regression analysis was used to explore associations between social disadvantages and BMI after adjustments for polygenic risk score for BMI (PRS BMI), maternal BMI and sex.

Results: The association between exposure to high early social disadvantage and increased later life BMI persisted after adjustments (β = 0.79, 95% CI, 0.33, 1.25, p < 0.001) in NFBC1966. In NFBC1986 this association was attenuated by PRS BMI (p = 0.181), and in HBCS1934–1944 there was no association between high early social disadvantage and increased later life BMI (β 0.22, 95% CI −0.91,1.35, p = 0.700). In HBCS1934–1944 and NFBC1966, participants who had reduced their exposure to social disadvantage during the life-course had lower later life BMI than those who had increased their exposure (β − 1.34, [−2.37,−0.31], p = 0.011; β − 0.46, [−0.89,−0.03], p = 0.038, respectively).

Conclusions: High social disadvantage in early life appears to be associated with higher BMI in later life. Reducing exposure to social disadvantage during the life-course may be a potential pathway for obesity reduction.

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Series: BMC public health
ISSN: 1471-2458
ISSN-E: 1471-2458
ISSN-L: 1471-2458
Volume: 20
Issue: 1
Article number: 708
DOI: 10.1186/s12889-020-08763-w
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 3142 Public health care science, environmental and occupational health
Funding: NFBC1966 received financial support from University of Oulu Grant no. 24000692, Oulu University Hospital Grant no. 24301140, ERDF European Regional Development Fund Grant no. 539/2010 A31592. This work was supported by the Academy of Finland [#268336] and the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program for the DynaHEALTH (under grant agreement No 633595), LifeCycle (under grant agreement No 733206), EUCANCONNECT (under grant agreement No 824989), LongITools (under grant agreement No 873749), and the JPI HDHL, PREcisE project, ZonMw the Netherlands no. P75416. T.A.B. is supported by the Medical Research Council (UK) [grant number: MR/ K501281/1]. The funders had no role in study design, in the collection, analysis and interpretation of the data, in the writing of the article and in the decision to submit it for publication.
EU Grant Number: (633595) DYNAHEALTH - Understanding the dynamic determinants of glucose homeostasis and social capability to promote Healthy and active aging
(733206) LIFECYCLE - Early-life stressors and LifeCycle health
(824989) EUCAN-Connect - A federated FAIR platform enabling large-scale analysis of high-value cohort data connecting Europe and Canada in personalized health
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 268336
Detailed Information: 268336 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
Copyright information: © The Author(s). 2020. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.