Career prospects linked to illness in childhood

Title Socioeconomic differences in cardiometabolic factors: social causation or health-related selection? Evidence from the Whitehall II Cohort Study, 1991-2004
Authors Elovainio M, Ferrie JE, Singh-Manoux A, Shipley M, Batty GD, Head J, Hamer M, Jokela M, Virtanen M, Brunner E, Marmot MG, Kivimäki M
Ref Am J Epidemiol. 2011 Oct 1; 174(7):779-89
 Media coverage

This study has attracted wide media attention, including The Guardian, the BBC, the Daily Mail and many others.

Lay summary

We say people with health problems early in life can have successful careers, but health inequalities should be tackled wherever they are found. 

Researchers from University College London found that people who spent long periods in hospital as a child, or had low birth weight, were more likely to find themselves passed over for promotion in later life.

The scientists also found that these same people were more likely to have a higher risk of developing heart disease later in life.

The researchers looked back over the careers of more than 8,300 civil service workers between 1991 and 2004 as part of the well-known Whitehall II study.

It is worth noting that medical care has improved since the study participants were children. Today, they would get much better care.

BHF Senior Cardiac Nurse, Ellen Mason said:

“There are a lot of reasons why people might be ill as a child, and birth defects such as congenital heart disease can sadly affect anyone’s child. Families shouldn’t be worried by these findings – many people who have health problems in infancy go on to become career high-flyers."

“This study is a really important reminder that health inequality is embedded in our society from a very early age – even from birth. In a week when NHS cuts are high on the news agenda, this study couldn’t be more timely in giving a reminder of the vital importance of tackling health inequality right from the start of life.”

The study was funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), the Medical Research Council (MRC), the BUPA Foundation, the United States National Institutes of Health and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

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