The biology of health inequalities: Lifepath newsletter, Issue 1

Whitehall II 30th Anniversary

25th November marked the 30th anniversary of Whitehall II Study. Why is this study so important? Because it has been exploring the relationship between socio-economic status, stress and cardiovascular disease for 30 years. A cohort of 10,308 participants aged 35-55 was recruited from the British Civil Service in 1985. Since this first wave of data collection, self-completion questionnaires and clinical data have been collected from the cohort every two to five years, with a high level of participation. Data collection is intended to continue until 2030. The founder of Whitehall II is Sir Michael Marmot.

The first Whitehall study laid the foundation of Whitehall II. It was set up in 1967, including 18,000 men working in the British Civil Service. It showed that men in the lowest employment grades were much more likely to die prematurely than men in the highest grade. These socioeconomic inequalities were independent of differences in well-known risk factors, such as smoking, and are linked to psychosocial factors like work stress. Whitehall II data have been used to build one of the most detailed pictures of the determinants of health in mid-life and late-life. As the population ages, the importance of these findings increase. They will also contribute to public health strategies, which aim to maximize healthy-ageing and independent living.

Thanks to Whitehall II, now we know much more on health inequalities and healthy ageing, their social determinants and the biological paths through which social and job disparities affect our health. Recently, a new European project – Lifepath – has started off to study the biology of the Social economic status. (see below)

For further details visit the Whitehall II website:

Lifepath, a new research project for healthy ageing

Lifepath (2015-2019) is a project funded by the European Commission under the Horizon2020 program  aimed to provide updated, relevant and innovative evidence about the relationship between social disparities and healthy ageing, in order to lay the ground for the development of future health policies and strategies.

Lifepath project stems from three main hypotheses: healthy ageing begins at conception, if not before; ageing involves a progressive differentiation across social groups; biological changes underpin the effect of complex environmental, behavioural and social patterns and can be traced with -omic technologies.

Lifepath aims at:

  • showing that healthy ageing is an achievable goal for society, as it is already experienced by individuals of high socioeconomic status (SES);
  • improving the understanding of the mechanisms through which healthy ageing pathways diverge by SES, by investigating life course biological pathways using -omic technologies;
  • examining the consequences of the current economic recession on health and the biology of ageing (and the consequent increase in social inequalities);
  • providing evidence on the reversibility of the poorer ageing trajectories experienced by individuals exposed to the strongest adversities and analyzing the health consequences of the current economic recession in Europe;
  • providing updated, relevant and innovative evidence for underpinning healthy ageing policies (particularly “health in all policies”) that address social disparities in ageing and the social determinants of health, using both observational studies as well as an experimental approach.

Read the First Lifepath Factsheet

Get in touch with the Lifepath partners

Watch the video-interview to the project’s coordinator Paolo Vineis (Imperiale College, London)

Watch the video-interview to the member of Lifepath project Sir Michael Marmot (UCL, London)


For any media enquiries, please contact Luca Carra by mail or mobile: +39 339 8578565

Publication date: 
Wednesday, November 25, 2015