Education and wealth inequalities in healthy ageing in eight harmonised cohorts in the ATHLOS consortium: a population-based study

ATHLOS consortium

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Background: The rapid growth of the size of the older population is having a substantial effect on health and social care services in many societies across the world. Maintaining health and functioning in older age is a key public health issue but few studies have examined factors associated with inequalities in trajectories of health and functioning across countries. The aim of this study was to investigate trajectories of healthy ageing in older men and women (aged ≥45 years) and the effect of education and wealth on these trajectories. Methods: This population-based study is based on eight longitudinal cohorts from Australia, the USA, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, and Europe harmonised by the EU Ageing Trajectories of Health: Longitudinal Opportunities and Synergies (ATHLOS) consortium. We selected these studies from the repository of 17 ageing studies in the ATHLOS consortium because they reported at least three waves of collected data. We used multilevel modelling to investigate the effect of education and wealth on trajectories of healthy ageing scores, which incorporated 41 items of physical and cognitive functioning with a range between 0 (poor) and 100 (good), after adjustment for age, sex, and cohort study. Findings: We used data from 141 214 participants, with a mean age of 62·9 years (SD 10·1) and an age range of 45–106 years, of whom 76 484 (54·2%) were women. The earliest year of baseline data was 1992 and the most recent last follow-up year was 2015. Education and wealth affected baseline scores of healthy ageing but had little effect on the rate of decrease in healthy ageing score thereafter. Compared with those with primary education or less, participants with tertiary education had higher baseline scores (adjusted difference in score of 10·54 points, 95% CI 10·31–10·77). The adjusted difference in healthy ageing score between lowest and highest quintiles of wealth was 8·98 points (95% CI 8·74–9·22). Among the eight cohorts, the strongest inequality gradient for both education and wealth was found in the Health Retirement Study from the USA. Interpretation: The apparent difference in baseline healthy ageing scores between those with high versus low education levels and wealth suggests that cumulative disadvantage due to low education and wealth might have largely deteriorated health conditions in early life stages, leading to persistent differences throughout older age, but no further increase in ageing disparity after age 70 years. Future research should adopt a lifecourse approach to investigate mechanisms of health inequalities across education and wealth in different societies. Funding: European Union Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)386-394
Number of pages9
JournalThe Lancet Public Health
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020
Externally publishedYes


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