Lifepath key messages
Lifepath is a research consortium funded by the European Commission under Horizon 2020, which aims to understand the impact of socio-economic differences on healthy ageing with an approach that considers the relative importance of effects on life, comparing studies on childhood and adult risks. After 4 years of work and more than 50 articles published in major scientific journals, we can summarize the results of the project in 7 key messages:
- Lifepath indicates that socioeconomic position is an independent risk factor for premature death and physical functioning. A low socioeconomic position encourages the uptake of well recognised risk behaviours such as smoking, high alcohol consumption, a diet low in fruit and vegetables.
- Lifepath studies also looked at biological markers that explain how social disadvantage is embedded in our bodies from the outset. Literally, “poverty gets under the skin”.
- Poor health trajectories related to low socioeconomic position start in early life and are well established by age three. However, appropriate policies can reverse the embodiment of socioeconomic disadvantage, resulting in healthier ageing. It is thus important to intervene from early age development through adulthood in order to maintain healthy ageing.
- Lifepath statistical modelling suggests that trajectories towards poor health can be modified by acting both on intermediate risky behaviours and on social deprivation itself. The two types of trajectories seem to be complementary.
- In addition to behavioural environmental and occupational exposures, Lifepath epidemiological and mechanistic understanding indicates that psychosocial stress, particularly among children and vulnerable adult groups, is likely to be a key factor in the establishment of health inequalities.
- For policy purposes, the points above suggest (a) that the effects of prevention interventions in early life are complementary to interventions in adulthood; (b) that intervening in poor socioeconomic conditions is complementary and quantitatively comparable to modifying risk factors; (c) that more needs to be done to attenuate psychosocial factors in addition to material factors.
- Lifepath can give some useful suggestions about the right timing of interventions and the necessity of an integrated approach to healthy ageing.