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1.  The Effects of Ethnic Discrimination and Socioeconomic Status on Endothelin-1 Among Blacks and Whites 
American journal of hypertension  2009;22(7):698-704.
Ethnic disparities in cardiovascular disease (CVD) may partially reflect differences in chronic stress burden that vary by social class and exposure to ethnic discrimination. Stress is associated with increased endothelin-1 (ET-1). This study examined the relationship of ET-1 to socioeconomic status (SES) and to perceived ethnic discrimination among black (n = 51) and white (n = 65) adults (mean age 36.5).
The Perceived Discrimination subscale of the Scale of Ethnic Experience measured exposure to discrimination and the Hollingshead Two-Factor Index of Social Position assessed SES. Plasma ET-1 was sampled upon awakening after an overnight admission.
SES and ET-1 levels were similar across ethnic groups, but mean discrimination scores were higher among blacks than whites (P < 0.001). Multiple regressions found that the SES × ethnicity interaction was associated with ET-1 (P < 0.05), after adjustment for gender, resting mean arterial pressure (MAP), body mass index (BMI), and exercise frequency. Regressions stratified by ethnicity revealed that lower SES correlated with higher ET-1 in whites (P < 0.001), but not blacks, and accounted for 21% of the variance. Another series of regressions revealed an interaction effect of ethnicity by discrimination on ET-1 (P < 0.05). Increased discrimination correlated with increased ET-1 among blacks (P < 0.05), but not whites, and explained 11% of the variance after adjustment for SES, gender, exercise frequency, and socially desirable response bias.
Thus, ET-1 levels increased in association with different psychosocial burdens in blacks and whites. Plasma ET-1 was higher among whites with lower SES and among blacks with higher levels of perceived ethnic discrimination, regardless of SES.
PMCID: PMC2811580  PMID: 19390511
2.  Serologic Evidence of Infections and Type 2 Diabetes: The MultiEthnic Study of Atherosclerosis 
Prospective studies have identified chronic inflammation as a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. However, it is not known whether infection by specific pathogens or having a greater “pathogen burden” is associated with diabetes. The aim of this study was to examine the cross-sectional relation of seropositivity to five pathogens (C. pneumoniae, cytomegalovirus, H. pylori, hepatitis A virus, herpes simplex virus) and prevalent diabetes.
Baseline data from a random sample of MultiEthnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) participants (n=1,000; age: 45-84) were used. Diabetes was defined by ADA 2003 criteria, and “pathogen burden” by the number of pathogens (0–5) for which an individual was seropositive. Logistic regression was used to test differences in diabetes prevalence by seropositivity. Linear regression was used to explore associations between pathogen seropositivity and the inflammation markers CRP, IL-6, and fibrinogen.
Diabetes prevalence was 12.7%, while seropositivity for C. pnuemoniae was 76%, cytomegalovirus 77%, H. pylori 45%, hepatitis A 58%, and herpes simplex virus 85%. 72% were seropositive for ≥3 pathogens. In crude analyses, the prevalence of diabetes was higher among those with a pathogen burden ≥3, and with seropositivity to cytomegalovirus, H. pylori, hepatitis A, and herpes simplex virus. After adjustment for demographic covariates (particularly race) all associations became nonsignificant. Pathogen seropositivity was also not related to inflammation marker levels.
Following demographic adjustments, no associations were observed between infection by several pathogens and diabetes status, suggesting no etiologic role for them in the occurrence of diabetes.
PMCID: PMC2679689  PMID: 19236617
diabetes; infection; pathogen; seropositivity
3.  Self-perceived stress reactivity is an indicator of psychosocial impairment at the workplace 
BMC Public Health  2010;10:252.
Work related stress is associated with a range of debilitating health outcomes. However, no unanimously accepted assessment tool exists for the early identification of individuals suffering from chronic job stress. The psychological concept of self-perceived stress reactivity refers to the individual disposition of a person to answer stressors with immediate as well as long lasting stress reactions, and it could be a valid indicator of current as well as prospective adverse health outcomes. The aim of this study was to determine the extent to which perceived stress reactivity correlates with various parameters of psychosocial health, cardiovascular risk factors, and parameters of chronic stress and job stress in a sample of middle-aged industrial employees in a so-called "sandwich-position".
In this cross-sectional study, a total of 174 industrial employees were assessed for psychosocial and biological stress parameters. Differences between groups with high and low stress reactivity were analysed. Logistic regression models were applied to identify which parameters allow to predict perceived high versus low stress reactivity.
In our sample various parameters of psychosocial stress like chronic stress and effort-reward imbalance were significantly increased in comparison to the normal population. Compared to employees with perceived low stress reactivity, those with perceived high stress reactivity showed poorer results in health-related complaints, depression, anxiety, sports behaviour, chronic stress, and effort-reward imbalance. The educational status of employees with perceived low stress reactivity is higher. Education, cardiovascular complaints, chronic stress, and effort-reward imbalance were moderate predictors for perceived stress reactivity. However, no relationship was found between stress reactivity and cardiovascular risk factors in our sample.
Job stress is a major burden in a relevant subgroup of industrial employees in a middle management position. Self-perceived stress reactivity seems to be an appropriate concept to identify employees who experience psychosocial stress and associated psychological problems at the workplace.
PMCID: PMC2881886  PMID: 20470413
4.  Urbanicity and Lifestyle Risk Factors for Cardiometabolic Diseases in Rural Uganda: A Cross-Sectional Study 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(7):e1001683.
Johanna Riha and colleagues evaluate the association of lifestyle risk factors with elements of urbanicity, such as having a public telephone, a primary school, or a hospital, among individuals living in rural settings in Uganda.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Urban living is associated with unhealthy lifestyles that can increase the risk of cardiometabolic diseases. In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where the majority of people live in rural areas, it is still unclear if there is a corresponding increase in unhealthy lifestyles as rural areas adopt urban characteristics. This study examines the distribution of urban characteristics across rural communities in Uganda and their associations with lifestyle risk factors for chronic diseases.
Methods and Findings
Using data collected in 2011, we examined cross-sectional associations between urbanicity and lifestyle risk factors in rural communities in Uganda, with 7,340 participants aged 13 y and above across 25 villages. Urbanicity was defined according to a multi-component scale, and Poisson regression models were used to examine associations between urbanicity and lifestyle risk factors by quartile of urbanicity. Despite all of the villages not having paved roads and running water, there was marked variation in levels of urbanicity across the villages, largely attributable to differences in economic activity, civil infrastructure, and availability of educational and healthcare services. In regression models, after adjustment for clustering and potential confounders including socioeconomic status, increasing urbanicity was associated with an increase in lifestyle risk factors such as physical inactivity (risk ratio [RR]: 1.19; 95% CI: 1.14, 1.24), low fruit and vegetable consumption (RR: 1.17; 95% CI: 1.10, 1.23), and high body mass index (RR: 1.48; 95% CI: 1.24, 1.77).
This study indicates that even across rural communities in SSA, increasing urbanicity is associated with a higher prevalence of lifestyle risk factors for cardiometabolic diseases. This finding highlights the need to consider the health impact of urbanization in rural areas across SSA.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors’ Summary
Cardiometabolic diseases—cardiovascular diseases that affect the heart and/or the blood vessels and metabolic diseases that affect the cellular chemical reactions needed to sustain life—are a growing global health concern. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the prevalence (the proportion of a population that has a given disease) of adults with diabetes (a life-shortening metabolic disease that affects how the body handles sugars) is currently 3.8%. By 2030, it is estimated that the prevalence of diabetes among adults in this region will have risen to 4.6%. Similarly, in 2004, around 1.2 million deaths in sub-Saharan Africa were attributed to coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases. By 2030, the number of deaths in this region attributable to cardiovascular disease is expected to double. Globally, cardiovascular disease and diabetes are now responsible for around 17.3 million and 1.3 million annual deaths, respectively, together accounting for about one-third of all deaths.
Why Was This Study Done?
Experts believe that increased consumption of saturated fats, sugar, and salt and reduced physical activity are partly responsible for the increasing global prevalence of cardiometabolic diseases. These lifestyle changes, they suggest, are related to urbanization—urban expansion into the countryside and migration from rural to urban areas. If this is true, the prevalence of unhealthy lifestyles should increase as rural areas adopt urban characteristics. Sub-Saharan Africa is the least urbanized region in the world, with about 60% of the population living in rural areas. However, rural settlements across the subcontinent are increasingly adopting urban characteristics. It is important to know whether urbanization is affecting the health of rural residents in sub-Saharan Africa to improve estimates of the future burden of cardiometabolic diseases in the region and to provide insights into ways to limit this burden. In this cross-sectional study (an investigation that studies participants at a single time point), the researchers examine the distribution of urban characteristics across rural communities in Uganda and the association of these characteristics with lifestyle risk factors for cardiometabolic diseases.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
For their study, the researchers used data collected in 2011 by the General Population Cohort study, a study initiated in 1989 to describe HIV infection trends among people living in 25 villages in rural southwestern Uganda that collects health-related and other information annually from its participants. The researchers quantified the “urbanicity” of the 25 villages using a multi-component scale that included information such as village size and economic activity. They then used statistical models to examine associations between urbanicity and lifestyle risk factors such as body mass index (BMI, a measure of obesity) and self-reported fruit and vegetable consumption for more than 7,000 study participants living in those villages. None of the villages had paved roads or running water. However, urbanicity varied markedly across the villages, largely because of differences in economic activity, civil infrastructure, and the availability of educational and healthcare services. Notably, increasing urbanicity was associated with an increase in lifestyle risk factors for cardiovascular diseases. So, for example, people living in villages with the highest urbanicity scores were nearly 20% more likely to be physically inactive and to eat less fruits and vegetables and nearly 50% more likely to have a high BMI than people living in villages with the lowest urbanicity scores.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that, across rural communities in Uganda, even a small increase in urbanicity is associated with a higher prevalence of potentially modifiable lifestyle risk factors for cardiometabolic diseases. These findings suggest, therefore, that simply classifying settlements as either rural or urban may not be adequate to capture the information needed to target strategies for cardiometabolic disease management and control in rural areas as they become more urbanized. Because this study was cross-sectional, it is not possible to say how long a rural population needs to experience a more urban environment before its risk of cardiometabolic diseases increases. Longitudinal studies are needed to obtain this information. Moreover, studies of other countries in sub-Saharan Africa are needed to show that these findings are generalizable across the region. However, based on these findings, and given that more than 553 million people live in rural areas across sub-Saharan Africa, it seems likely that increasing urbanization will have a substantial impact on the future health of populations throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Fahad Razak and Lisa Berkman
The American Heart Association provides information on all aspects of cardiovascular disease and diabetes; its website includes personal stories about heart attacks, stroke, and diabetes
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information on heart disease, stroke, and diabetes (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about cardiovascular disease and diabetes (including some personal stories)
The World Health Organization’s Global Noncommunicable Disease Network (NCDnet) aims to help low- and middle-income countries reduce illness and death caused by cardiometabolic and other non-communicable diseases
The World Heart Federation has recently produced a report entitled “Urbanization and Cardiovascular Disease”
Wikipedia has a page on urbanization (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
PMCID: PMC4114555  PMID: 25072243
5.  Sex Differences in Subclinical Atherosclerosis by Race/Ethnicity in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis 
American Journal of Epidemiology  2011;174(2):165-172.
Sex differences in cardiovascular disease mortality are more pronounced among non-Hispanic whites than other racial/ethnic groups, but it is unknown whether this variation is present in the earlier subclinical stages of disease. The authors examined racial/ethnic variation in sex differences in coronary artery calcification (CAC) and carotid intimal media thickness at baseline in 2000–2002 among participants (n = 6,726) in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis using binomial and linear regression. Models adjusted for risk factors in several stages: age, traditional cardiovascular disease risk factors, behavioral risk factors, psychosocial factors, and adult socioeconomic position. Women had a lower prevalence of any CAC and smaller amounts of CAC when present than men in all racial/ethnic groups. Sex differences in the prevalence of CAC were more pronounced in non-Hispanic whites than in African Americans and Chinese Americans after adjustment for traditional cardiovascular disease risk factors, and further adjustment for behavioral factors, psychosocial factors, and socioeconomic position did not modify these results (for race/sex, Pinteraction = 0.047). Similar patterns were observed for amount of CAC among adults with CAC. Racial/ethnic variation in sex differences for carotid intimal media thickness was less pronounced. In conclusion, coronary artery calcification is differentially patterned by sex across racial/ethnic groups.
PMCID: PMC3167681  PMID: 21685409
calcification, physiologic; continental population groups; coronary vessels; sex; social class
6.  Levels of maternal serum corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) at midpregnancy in relation to maternal characteristics 
Psychoneuroendocrinology  2009;35(6):820-832.
Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) in maternal blood originates primarily from gestational tissues and elevated levels in midpregnancy have been linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes. Investigators have hypothesized that high levels of maternal stress might lead to elevated CRH levels in pregnancy. Yet a few studies have measured maternal CRH levels among subgroups of women who experience disproportionate socioeconomic disadvantage, such as African-American and Hispanic women, and found that these groups have lower CRH levels in pregnancy. Our goal was to identify maternal characteristics related to CRH levels in midpregnancy and examine which if any of these factors help to explain race differences in CRH levels.
The Pregnancy Outcomes and Community Health (POUCH) Study prospectively enrolled women at 15–27 weeks’ gestation from 52 clinics in five Michigan communities (1998–2004). Data from the POUCH Study were used to examine maternal demographics, anthropometrics, health behaviors, and psychosocial factors (independent variables) in relation to midpregnancy blood CRH levels modeled as log CRH pg/ml (dependent variable). Analyses were conducted within a subcohort from the POUCH Study (671 non-Hispanic Whites, 545 African Americans) and repeated in the subcohort subset with uncomplicated pregnancies (n=746). Blood levels of CRH and independent variables were ascertained at the time of enrollment. All regression models included week of enrollment as a covariate. In addition, final multivariable regression models alternately incorporated different psychosocial measures along with maternal demographics and weight. Psychosocial variables included measures of current depressive symptoms, perceived stress, coping style, hostility, mastery, anomie, and a chronic stressor (history of abuse as a child and adult).
In subcohort models, the adjusted mean CRH level was significantly lower in African Americans vs. non-Hispanic whites; the difference was −0.48 pg/ml (P<0.01). This difference was reduced by 21% (−0.38 pg/ml, P<0.01) after inclusion of other relevant covariates. Adjusted mean CRH levels were also lower among women with < 12 years vs. ≥ 12 years of education (minimal difference =−0.19 pg/ml, P<0.05), and among women with high levels of depressive symptoms who did not use antidepressants vs. women with lower levels of depressive symptoms and no antidepressant use (minimal difference =−0.13 pg/ml, P<0.01). CRH levels were inversely associated with maternal weight (−0.03 pg/ml per 10 pound increase, P<.05) but unrelated to smoking and all other psychosocial measures. Results were similar in the subset of women with uncomplicated pregnancies, except that lower CRH levels were also linked to higher perceived stress.
African-American women have lower blood CRH levels at midpregnancy and the race difference in CRH levels is reduced modestly after adjustment for other maternal characteristics. CRH levels were not elevated among women with high levels of perceived stress or more chronic stressors. The inverse association between CRH levels and maternal weight is likely due to a hemodilution effect. Relations among maternal CRH levels and maternal race, educational level, and depressive symptoms are difficult to explain and invite further investigation. Our results highlight a group of covariates that merit consideration in studies that address CRH in the context of pregnancy and/or post-partum complications.
PMCID: PMC2875356  PMID: 20006448
corticotropin releasing hormone; pregnancy; race; weight; depression
7.  The influence of persistent pathogens on circulating levels of inflammatory markers: a cross-sectional analysis from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis 
BMC Public Health  2010;10:706.
Systemic inflammation is linked to cardiovascular risk, but the influence of persistent pathogens, which are conventionally dichotomously categorized, on circulating levels of inflammatory markers is not clear. Antibody levels of pathogens have not been examined in relation to inflammation.
Using data from a subsample of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, we examined circulating levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), C-reactive protein (CRP) and fibrinogen in relation to five common persistent pathogens: cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex virus-1, Hepatitis A virus, Helicobacter pylori and Chlamydia pneumoniae. We tested the hypothesis that the number of seropositive pathogens (based on conventional cut-off points) would not be as sensitive a marker of inflammation as immune response measured by antibody levels to pathogens.
High antibody response to multiple pathogens showed graded and significant associations with IL-6 (p < 0.001), CRP (p = 0.04) and fibrinogen (p = 0.001), whereas seropositive pathogen burden did not. In multiple linear regression models, high antibody response to multiple pathogens maintained a positive association only with IL-6 (4.4% per pathogen exhibiting high antibody response, 95% CI 0.0-8.9).
High antibody response to pathogens was a more consistent marker of inflammatory outcomes compared to seropositivity alone and high antibody response to multiple pathogens was a stronger marker compared to any single pathogen.
PMCID: PMC2996373  PMID: 21083905
8.  Do biomarkers of stress mediate the relation between socioeconomic status and health? 
To test the relation between socioeconomic status (SES) and biomarkers of chronic stress, including basal cortisol, and to test whether these biomarkers account for the relation between SES and health outcomes.
Cross sectional study using data from the 2000 social and environmental biomarkers of aging study (SEBAS).
Nationally representative sample of 972 men and women aged 54 and older.
Main outcome measures
Highest risk quartiles for 13 biomarkers representing functioning of the neuroendocrine system, immune/inflammatory systems, and the cardiovascular system: cortisol, adrenaline (epinephrine), noradrenaline (norepinephrine), serum dihydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEA‐S), insulin‐like growth factor 1 (IGF1), interleukin 6 (IL6), albumin, systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, waist‐hip ratio, total cholesterol‐HDL ratio, HDL cholesterol, and glycosylated haemoglobin; self reported health status (1–5) and self reported mobility difficulties (0–6).
Lower SES men have greater odds of falling into the highest risk quartile for only 2 of 13 biomarkers, and show a lower risk for 3 of the 13 biomarkers, with no association between SES and cortisol. Lower SES women have a higher risk for many of the cardiovascular risk factors, but a lower risk for increased basal readings of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. Inclusion of all 13 biological markers does not explain the relation between SES and health outcomes in the sample.
These data do not support the hypothesis that chronic stress, via sustained activation of stress related autonomic and neuroendocrine responses, is an important mediator in the relation between SES and health outcomes. Most notably, lower SES is not associated with higher basal levels of cortisol in either men or women. These results place an increased burden of proof on researchers who assert that psychosocial stress is an important pathway linking SES and health.
PMCID: PMC2566242  PMID: 16790837
socioeconomic status; stress; cortisol; inequalities in health; Taiwan
9.  Air Pollution and the Microvasculature: A Cross-Sectional Assessment of In Vivo Retinal Images in the Population-Based Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(11):e1000372.
Sara Adar and colleagues show that residing in locations with higher air pollution concentrations and experiencing daily increases in air pollution are associated with narrower retinal arteriolar diameters in older individuals, thus providing a link between air pollution and cardiovascular disease.
Long- and short-term exposures to air pollution, especially fine particulate matter (PM2.5), have been linked to cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. One hypothesized mechanism for these associations involves microvascular effects. Retinal photography provides a novel, in vivo approach to examine the association of air pollution with changes in the human microvasculature.
Methods and Findings
Chronic and acute associations between residential air pollution concentrations and retinal vessel diameters, expressed as central retinal arteriolar equivalents (CRAE) and central retinal venular equivalents (CRVE), were examined using digital retinal images taken in Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) participants between 2002 and 2003. Study participants (46 to 87 years of age) were without clinical cardiovascular disease at the baseline examination (2000–2002). Long-term outdoor concentrations of PM2.5 were estimated at each participant's home for the 2 years preceding the clinical exam using a spatio-temporal model. Short-term concentrations were assigned using outdoor measurements on the day preceding the clinical exam. Residential proximity to roadways was also used as an indicator of long-term traffic exposures. All associations were examined using linear regression models adjusted for subject-specific age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, income, smoking status, alcohol use, physical activity, body mass index, family history of cardiovascular disease, diabetes status, serum cholesterol, glucose, blood pressure, emphysema, C-reactive protein, medication use, and fellow vessel diameter. Short-term associations were further controlled for weather and seasonality. Among the 4,607 participants with complete data, CRAE were found to be narrower among persons residing in regions with increased long- and short-term levels of PM2.5. These relationships were observed in a joint exposure model with −0.8 µm (95% confidence interval [CI] −1.1 to −0.5) and −0.4 µm (95% CI −0.8 to 0.1) decreases in CRAE per interquartile increases in long- (3 µg/m3) and short-term (9 µg/m3) PM2.5 levels, respectively. These reductions in CRAE are equivalent to 7- and 3-year increases in age in the same cohort. Similarly, living near a major road was also associated with a −0.7 µm decrease (95% CI −1.4 to 0.1) in CRAE. Although the chronic association with CRAE was largely influenced by differences in exposure between cities, this relationship was generally robust to control for city-level covariates and no significant differences were observed between cities. Wider CRVE were associated with living in areas of higher PM2.5 concentrations, but these findings were less robust and not supported by the presence of consistent acute associations with PM2.5.
Residing in regions with higher air pollution concentrations and experiencing daily increases in air pollution were each associated with narrower retinal arteriolar diameters in older individuals. These findings support the hypothesis that important vascular phenomena are associated with small increases in short-term or long-term air pollution exposures, even at current exposure levels, and further corroborate reported associations between air pollution and the development and exacerbation of clinical cardiovascular disease.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Cardiovascular disease (CVD)—disease that affects the heart and/or the blood vessels—is a common cause of illness and death among adults in developed countries. In the United States, for example, the leading cause of death is coronary heart disease, a CVD in which narrowing of the heart's arteries by atherosclerotic plaques (fatty deposits that build up with age) slows the blood supply to the heart and may eventually cause a heart attack (myocardial infarction). Other types of CVD include stroke (in which atherosclerotic plaques interrupt the brain's blood supply) and peripheral arterial disease (in which the blood supply to the limbs is blocked). Smoking, high blood pressure, high blood levels of cholesterol (a type of fat), having diabetes, being overweight, and being physically inactive all increase a person's risk of developing CVD. Treatments for CVD include lifestyle changes and taking drugs that lower blood pressure or blood cholesterol levels.
Why Was This Study Done?
Another risk factor for CVD is exposure to long-term and/or short-term air pollution. Fine particle pollution or PM2.5 is particularly strongly associated with an increased risk of CVD. PM2.5—particulate matter 2.5 µm in diameter or 1/30th the diameter of a human hair—is mainly produced by motor vehicles, power plants, and other combustion sources. Why PM2.5 increases CVD risk is not clear but one possibility is that it alters the body's microvasculature (fine blood vessels known as capillaries, arterioles, and venules), thereby impairing the blood flow through the heart and brain. In this study, the researchers use noninvasive digital retinal photography to investigate whether there is an association between air pollution and changes in the human microvasculature. The retina—a light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye that converts images into electrical messages and sends them to the brain—has a dense microvasculature. Retinal photography is used to check the retinal microvasculature for signs of potentially blinding eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy. Previous studies have found that narrower than normal retinal arterioles and wider than normal retinal venules are associated with CVD.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used digital retinal photography to measure the diameters of retinal blood vessels in the participants of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). This study is investigating CVD progression in people aged 45–84 years of various ethnic backgrounds who had no CVD symptoms when they enrolled in the study in 2000–2002. The researchers modeled the long-term outdoor concentration of PM2.5 at each participant's house for the 2-year period preceding the retinal examination (which was done between 2002 and 2003) using data on PM2.5 levels collected by regulatory monitoring stations as well as study-specific air samples collected outside of the homes and in the communities of study participants. Outdoor PM2.5 measurements taken the day before the examination provided short-term PM2.5 levels. Among the 4,607 MESA participants who had complete data, retinal arteriolar diameters were narrowed among those who lived in regions with increased long- and short-term PM2.5 levels. Specifically, an increase in long-term PM2.5 concentrations of 3 µg/m3 was associated with a 0.8 µm decrease in arteriolar diameter, a reduction equivalent to that seen for a 7-year increase in age in this group of people. Living near a major road, another indicator of long-term exposure to PM2.5 pollution, was also associated with narrowed arterioles. Finally, increased retinal venular diameters were weakly associated with long-term high PM2.5 concentrations.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that living in areas with long-term air pollution or being exposed to short-term air pollution is associated with narrowing of the retinal arterioles in older individuals. They also show that widening of retinal venules is associated with long-term (but not short-term) PM2.5 pollution. Together, these findings support the hypothesis that long- and short-term air pollution increases CVD risk through effects on the microvasculature. However, they do not prove that PM2.5 is the constituent of air pollution that drives microvascular changes—these findings could reflect the toxicity of another pollutant or the pollution mixture as a whole. Importantly, these findings show that microvascular changes can occur at the PM2.5 levels that commonly occur in developed countries, which are well below those seen in developing countries. Worryingly, they also suggest that the deleterious cardiovascular effects of air pollution could occur at levels below existing regulatory standards.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000372.
The American Heart Association provides information for patients and caregivers on all aspects of cardiovascular disease (in several languages), including information on air pollution, heart disease, and stroke
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information on heart disease and on stroke
Information is available from the British Heart Foundation on cardiovascular disease
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information for patients and caregivers about cardiovascular disease
MedlinePlus provides links to other sources of information on heart disease and on vascular disease (in English and Spanish)
The AIRNow site provides information about US air quality and about air pollution and health
The Air Quality Archive has up-to-date information about air pollution in the UK and information about the health effects of air pollution
The US Environmental Protection Agency has information on PM2.5
The following Web sites contain information available on the MESA and MESA Air studies
PMCID: PMC2994677  PMID: 21152417
10.  Neighbourhood socioeconomic status and cardiovascular risk factors: a multilevel analysis of nine cities in the Czech Republic and Germany 
BMC Public Health  2007;7:255.
Previous studies have shown that deprived neighbourhoods have higher cardiovascular mortality and morbidity rates. Inequalities in the distribution of behaviour related risk factors are one possible explanation for this trend. In our study, we examined the association between cardiovascular risk factors and neighbourhood characteristics. To assess the consistency of associations the design is cross-national with data from nine industrial towns from the Czech Republic and Germany.
We combined datasets from two population based studies, one in Germany ('Heinz Nixdorf Recall (HNR) Study'), and one in the Czech Republic ('Health, Alcohol and Psychosocial Factors in Eastern Europe (HAPIEE) Study'). Participation rates were 56% in the HNR and 55% in the HAPIEE study. The subsample for this particular analysis consists of 11,554 men and women from nine German and Czech towns. Census based information on social characteristics of 326 neighbourhoods were collected from local administrative authorities. We used unemployment rate and overcrowding as area-level markers of socioeconomic status (SES). The cardiovascular risk factors obesity, hypertension, smoking and physical inactivity were used as response variables. Regression models were complemented by individual-level social status (education) and relevant covariates.
Smoking, obesity and low physical activity were more common in deprived neighbourhoods in Germany, even when personal characteristics including individual education were controlled for. For hypertension associations were weak. In the Czech Republic associations were observed for smoking and physical inactivity, but not for obesity and hypertension when individual-level covariates were adjusted for. The strongest association was found for smoking in both countries: in the fully adjusted model the odds ratio for 'high unemployment rate' was 1.30 [95% CI 1.02–1.66] in the Czech Republic and 1.60 [95% CI 1.29–1.98] in Germany.
In this comparative study, the effects of neighbourhood deprivation varied by country and risk factor; the strongest and most consistent effects were found for smoking. Results indicate that area level SES is associated with health related lifestyles, which might be a possible pathway linking social status and cardiovascular disease. Individual-level education had a considerable influence on the association between neighbourhood characteristics and risk factors.
PMCID: PMC2099437  PMID: 17888149
11.  The Promise of Prevention: The Effects of Four Preventable Risk Factors on National Life Expectancy and Life Expectancy Disparities by Race and County in the United States 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(3):e1000248.
Majid Ezzati and colleagues examine the contribution of a set of risk factors (smoking, high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose, and adiposity) to socioeconomic disparities in life expectancy in the US population.
There has been substantial research on psychosocial and health care determinants of health disparities in the United States (US) but less on the role of modifiable risk factors. We estimated the effects of smoking, high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose, and adiposity on national life expectancy and on disparities in life expectancy and disease-specific mortality among eight subgroups of the US population (the “Eight Americas”) defined on the basis of race and the location and socioeconomic characteristics of county of residence, in 2005.
Methods and Findings
We combined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System to estimate unbiased risk factor levels for the Eight Americas. We used data from the National Center for Health Statistics to estimate age–sex–disease-specific number of deaths in 2005. We used systematic reviews and meta-analyses of epidemiologic studies to obtain risk factor effect sizes for disease-specific mortality. We used epidemiologic methods for multiple risk factors to estimate the effects of current exposure to these risk factors on death rates, and life table methods to estimate effects on life expectancy. Asians had the lowest mean body mass index, fasting plasma glucose, and smoking; whites had the lowest systolic blood pressure (SBP). SBP was highest in blacks, especially in the rural South—5–7 mmHg higher than whites. The other three risk factors were highest in Western Native Americans, Southern low-income rural blacks, and/or low-income whites in Appalachia and the Mississippi Valley. Nationally, these four risk factors reduced life expectancy at birth in 2005 by an estimated 4.9 y in men and 4.1 y in women. Life expectancy effects were smallest in Asians (M, 4.1 y; F, 3.6 y) and largest in Southern rural blacks (M, 6.7 y; F, 5.7 y). Standard deviation of life expectancies in the Eight Americas would decline by 0.50 y (18%) in men and 0.45 y (21%) in women if these risks had been reduced to optimal levels. Disparities in the probabilities of dying from cardiovascular diseases and diabetes at different ages would decline by 69%–80%; the corresponding reduction for probabilities of dying from cancers would be 29%–50%. Individually, smoking and high blood pressure had the largest effect on life expectancy disparities.
Disparities in smoking, blood pressure, blood glucose, and adiposity explain a significant proportion of disparities in mortality from cardiovascular diseases and cancers, and some of the life expectancy disparities in the US.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Life expectancy (a measure of longevity and premature death) and overall health have increased steadily in the United States over recent years. New drugs, new medical technologies, and better disease prevention have all helped Americans to lead longer, healthier lives. However, even now, some Americans live much longer and much healthier lives than others. Health disparities—differences in how often certain diseases occur and cause death in groups of people classified according to their ethnicity, geographical location, sex, or age—are extremely large and persistent in the US. On average, black men and women in the US live 6.3 and 4.5 years less, respectively, than their white counterparts; the gap between life expectancy in the US counties with the lowest and highest life expectancies is 18.4 years for men and 14.3 years for women. Disparities in deaths (mortality) from chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases (for example, heart attacks and stroke), cancers, and diabetes are known to be the main determinants of these life expectancy disparities.
Why Was This Study Done?
Preventable risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, excessive body fat (adiposity), and high blood sugar are responsible for many thousands of deaths from chronic diseases. Exposure to these risk factors varies widely by race, state of residence, and socioeconomic status. However, the effects of these observed disparities in exposure to modifiable risk factors on US life expectancy disparities have only been examined in selected groups of people and it is not known how multiple modifiable risk factors affect US health disparities. A better knowledge about how disparities in risk factor exposure contribute to health disparities is needed to ensure that prevention programs not only improve the average health status but also reduce health disparities. In this study, the researchers estimate the effects of smoking, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and adiposity on US life expectancy and on disparities in life expectancy and disease-specific deaths among the “Eight Americas,” population groups defined by race and by the location and socioeconomic characteristics of their county of residence.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers extracted data on exposure to these risk factors from US national health surveys, information on deaths from different diseases in 2005 from the US National Center for Health Statistics, and estimates of how much each risk factor increases the risk of death from each disease from published studies. They then used modeling methods to estimate the effects of risk factor exposure on death rates and life expectancy. The Asian subgroup had the lowest adiposity, blood sugar, and smoking rates, they report, and the three white subgroups had the lowest blood pressure. Blood pressure was highest in the three black subgroups, whereas the other three risk factors were highest in Western Native Americans, Southern rural blacks, and whites living in Appalachia and the Mississippi Valley. The effects on life expectancy of these factors were smallest in Asians and largest in Southern rural blacks but, overall, these risk factors reduced the life expectancy for men and women born in 2005 by 4.9 and 4.1 years, respectively. Other calculations indicate that if these four risk factors were reduced to optimal levels, disparities among the subgroups in deaths from cardiovascular diseases and diabetes and from cancers would be reduced by up to 80% and 50%, respectively.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that disparities in smoking, blood pressure, blood sugar, and adiposity among US racial and geographical subgroups explain a substantial proportion of the disparities in deaths from cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancers among these subgroups. The disparities in risk factor exposure also explain some of the disparities in life expectancy. The remaining disparities in deaths and life expectancy could be the result of preventable risk factors not included in this study—one of its limitations is that it does not consider the effect of dietary fat, alcohol use, and dietary salt, which are major contributors to different diseases. Thus, suggest the researchers, reduced exposure to preventable risk factors through the implementation of relevant policies and programs should reduce life expectancy and mortality disparities in the US and yield health benefits at a national scale.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US Office of Minority Health, and the US National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities all provide information on health disparities in the US
MedlinePlus provides links to information on health disparities and on healthy living (in English and Spanish)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on all aspects of healthy living
The American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society provide information on modifiable risk factors for patients and caregivers
Healthy People 2010 is a national framework designed to improve the health of people living in the US
The US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) collect information on risk factor exposures in the US
PMCID: PMC2843596  PMID: 20351772
12.  Racial/ethnic Heterogeneity in the Socioeconomic Patterning of CVD Risk Factors: in the United States: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis 
Many studies document racial variation, gender differences, and socioeconomic status (SES) patterning in cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors but few studies have investigated heterogeneity in SES differences by race/ethnicity or gender. Using data from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (N = 6,814) and stratified regression models, we investigated race/ethnic differences in the SES patterning of diabetes, hypertension, smoking, and body mass index (BMI). Inverse socioeconomic gradients in hypertension, diabetes, smoking, and BMI were observed in White and Black women but associations were weaker or absent in Hispanic and Chinese women (except in the case of diabetes for Hispanic women). Even greater heterogeneity in social patterning of risk factors was observed in men. In White men all four risk factors were inversely associated with socioeconomic position, although often associations were only present or were stronger for education than for income. The inverse socioeconomic patterning was much less consistent in men of other races/ethnic groups, and higher SES was associated with higher BMI in non-White men. These findings have implications for understanding the causes of social patterning, for the analysis of SES adjusted race/ethnic differences, and for the targeting of interventions.
PMCID: PMC3312013  PMID: 21317510
Cardiovascular disease; risk factors; socioeconomic status; race; ethnicity
13.  Socioeconomic inequalities in cardiovascular mortality and the role of childhood socioeconomic conditions and adulthood risk factors: a prospective cohort study with 17-years of follow up 
BMC Public Health  2012;12:1045.
The mechanisms underlying socioeconomic inequalities in mortality from cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are largely unknown. We studied the contribution of childhood socioeconomic conditions and adulthood risk factors to inequalities in CVD mortality in adulthood.
The prospective GLOBE study was carried out in the Netherlands, with baseline data from 1991, and linked with the cause of death register in 2007. At baseline, participants reported on adulthood socioeconomic position (SEP) (own educational level), childhood socioeconomic conditions (occupational level of respondent’s father), and a broad range of adulthood risk factors (health behaviours, material circumstances, psychosocial factors). This present study is based on 5,395 men and 6,306 women, and the data were analysed using Cox regression models and hazard ratios (HR).
A low adulthood SEP was associated with increased CVD mortality for men (HR 1.84; 95% CI: 1.41-2.39) and women (HR 1.80; 95%CI: 1.04-3.10). Those with poorer childhood socioeconomic conditions were more likely to die from CVD in adulthood, but this reached statistical significance only among men with the poorest childhood socioeconomic circumstances. About half of the investigated adulthood risk factors showed significant associations with CVD mortality among both men and women, namely renting a house, experiencing financial problems, smoking, physical activity and marital status. Alcohol consumption and BMI showed a U-shaped relationship with CVD mortality among women, with the risk being significantly greater for both abstainers and heavy drinkers, and among women who were underweight or obese. Among men, being single or divorced and using sleep/anxiety drugs increased the risk of CVD mortality. In explanatory models, the largest contributor to adulthood CVD inequalities were material conditions for men (42%; 95% CI: −73 to −20) and behavioural factors for women (55%; 95% CI: -191 to −28). Simultaneous adjustment for adulthood risk factors and childhood socioeconomic conditions attenuated the HR for the lowest adulthood SEP to 1.34 (95% CI: 0.99-1.82) for men and 1.19 (95% CI: 0.65-2.15) for women.
Adulthood material, behavioural and psychosocial factors played a major role in the explanation of adulthood SEP inequalities in CVD mortality. Childhood socioeconomic circumstances made a modest contribution, mainly via their association with adulthood risk factors. Policies and interventions to reduce health inequalities are likely to be most effective when considering the influence of socioeconomic circumstances across the entire life course and in particular, poor material conditions and unhealthy behaviours in adulthood.
PMCID: PMC3539932  PMID: 23217053
Cardiovascular diseases; Socioeconomic status; Health behaviour; Life course epidemiology; Mortality determinants
14.  Are the effects of psychosocial exposures attributable to confounding? Evidence from a prospective observational study on psychological stress and mortality 
STUDY OBJECTIVES—To examine the association between perceived psychological stress and cause specific mortality in a population where perceived stress was not associated with material disadvantage.
DESIGN—Prospective observational study with follow up of 21 years and repeat screening of half the cohort five years from baseline. Measures included perceived psychological stress, coronary risk factors, and indices of lifecourse socioeconomic position.
SETTING—27 workplaces in Scotland.
PARTICIPANTS—5388 men (mean age 48 years) at first screening and 2595 men at second screening who had complete data on all measures.
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES—Hazard ratios for all cause mortality and mortality from cardiovascular disease (ICD9 390-459), coronary heart disease (ICD9 410-414), smoking related cancers (ICD9 140, 141, 143-9, 150, 157, 160-163, 188 and 189), other cancers (ICD9 140-208 other than smoking related), stroke (ICD9 430-438), respiratory diseases (ICD9 460-519) and alcohol related causes (ICD9 141, 143-6, 148-9, 150, 155, 161, 291, 303, 571 and 800-998).
RESULTS—At first screening behavioural risk (higher smoking and alcohol consumption, lower exercise) was positively associated with stress. This relation was less apparent at second screening. Higher stress at first screening showed an apparent protective relation with all cause mortality and with most categories of cause specific mortality. In general, these estimates were attenuated on adjustment for social position. This pattern was also seen in relation to cumulative stress at first and second screening and with stress that increased between first and second screening. The pattern was most striking with regard to smoking related cancers: relative risk high compared with low stress at first screening, age adjusted 0.64 (95% CI 0.42, 0.96), p for trend 0.016, fully adjusted 0.69 (95% CI 0.45, 1.06), p for trend 0.10; high compared with low cumulative stress, age adjusted 0.69 (95% CI 0.44, 1.09), p for trend 0.12, fully adjusted 0.76 (95% CI 0.48, 1.21), p for trend 0.25; increased compared with decreased stress, age adjusted 0.65 (95% CI 0.40, 1.06), p for trend 0.09, fully adjusted 0.65 (95% CI 0.40, 1.06), p for trend 0.08.
CONCLUSIONS—This implausible protective relation between higher levels of stress, which were associated with increased smoking, and mortality from smoking related cancers, was probably a product of confounding. Plausible reported associations between psychosocial exposures and disease, in populations where such exposures are associated with material disadvantage, may be similarly produced by confounding, and of no causal significance.

Keywords: socioeconomic differentials; psychosocial factors; mortality
PMCID: PMC1731800  PMID: 11707481
15.  Early origins of health disparities: burden of infection, health, and socioeconomic status in U.S. children 
Social science & medicine (1982)  2009;68(4):699-707.
Recent work in biodemography has suggested that life-time exposure to infection and inflammation may be important determinants of later-life morbidity and mortality. Early exposure to infections during critical periods can predispose individuals to chronic disease, in part through the reallocation of energy away from development needed for immune and inflammatory responses. Furthermore, markers of inflammation are known to vary by socioeconomic status in adults and may contribute to overall socioeconomic health inequalities, but little is known about how the sources of this inflammation over the life course. This paper uses novel biomarker data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) to test the association of the burden of common chronic infections (Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), cytomegalovirus (CMV), herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1), hepatitis A and hepatitis B) with height-for-age and asthma/chronic respiratory conditions in U.S. children ages 6 and older, and the association of these chronic infections to children’s socioeconomic status. A higher burden of infection is found to be associated with lower height-for-age as well as an increased likelihood of asthma net of race/ethnicity, family income, and parental education. Children with lower family income, lower parental education, and non-white race/ethnicity have a higher likelihood of infection with several individual pathogens as well as the overall burden of infection. Differential exposure and/or susceptibility to infections may be one mechanism through which early social factors get embodied and shape later life health outcomes.
PMCID: PMC2670067  PMID: 19152993
health inequalities; infections; children; NHANES III; socioeconomic status(SES); USA; lifecourse; biomarkers
16.  Income non-reporting: implications for health inequalities research 
OBJECTIVES—To determine whether, in the context of a face to face interview, socioeconomic groups differ in their propensity to provide details about the amount of their personal income, and to discuss the likely consequences of any differences for studies that use income based measures of socioeconomic position.
DESIGN AND SETTING—The study used data from the 1995 Australian Health Survey. The sample was selected using a stratified multi-stage area design that covered urban and rural areas across all States and Territories and included non-institutionalised residents of private and non-private dwellings. The response rate was 91.5% for selected dwellings and 97.0% for persons within dwellings. Data were collected using face to face interviews. Income response, the dependent measure, was binary coded (0 if income was reported and 1 for refusals, "don't knows" and insufficient information). Socioeconomic position was measured using employment status, occupation, education and main income source. The socioeconomic characteristics of income non-reporters were initially examined using sex specific age adjusted proportions with 95% confidence intervals. Multivariate analysis was performed using logistic regression.
PARTICIPANTS—Persons aged 15-64 (n=33 434) who were reportedly in receipt of an income from one or more sources during the data collection reference period.
RESULTS—The overall rate of income non-response was 9.8%. Propensity to not report income increased with age (15-29 years 5.8%, 30-49 10.6%, 50-64 13.8%). No gender differences were found (men 10.2%, women 9.3%). Income non-response was not strongly nor consistently related to education or occupation for men, although there was a suggested association among these variables for women, with highly educated women and those in professional occupations being less likely to report their income. Strong associations were evident between income non-response, labour force status and main income source. Rates were highest among the employed and those in receipt of an income from their own business or partnership, and lowest among the unemployed and those in receipt of a government pension or benefit (which excluded the unemployed).
CONCLUSION—Given that differences in income non-reporting were small to moderate across levels of the education and occupation variables, and that propensity to not report income was greater among higher socioeconomic groups, estimates of the relation between income and health are unlikely to be affected by socioeconomic variability in income non-response. Probability estimates from a logistic regression suggested that higher rates of income non-reporting among employed persons who received their income from a business or partnership were not attributable to socioeconomic factors. Rather, it is proposed that these higher rates were attributable to recall effects, or concerns about having one's income information disclosed to taxation authorities. Future studies need to replicate this analysis to determine whether the results can be inferred to other survey and data collection contexts. The analysis should also be extended to include an examination of the relation between socioeconomic position and accuracy of income reporting. Little is known about this issue, yet it represents a potential source of bias that may have important implications for studies that investigate the association between income and health.

Keywords: socioeconomic position; income non-response; data quality
PMCID: PMC1731636  PMID: 10746115
17.  Socioeconomic and demographic predictors of selected cardiovascular risk factors among adults living in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia 
BMC Public Health  2014;14(1):895.
The burden of cardiovascular disease (CVD) is increasing in low-to-middle income countries (LMIC). Although strong evidence for inverse associations between socioeconomic position and health outcomes in high-income countries exists, less is known about LMIC. Understanding country-level differences is critical to tailoring effective population health policy and interventions. We examined the association of socioeconomic position and demographic characteristics in determining CVD risk factors among adults living in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia.
We used data from the cross-sectional World Health Organization’s STEPwise approach to surveillance 2002 Pohnpei dataset and logistic regression analyses to examine the association of socioeconomic position (education, income, employment) and demographics (age, sex) with selected behavioral and anthropometric CVD risk factors. The study sample consisted of 1638 adults (642 men, 996 women; 25–64 years).
In general, we found that higher education (≥13 years) was associated with lower odds for daily tobacco use (odds ratio [OR]: 0.46, confidence interval [CI]: 0.29–0.75, p = 0.004) and low physical activity (OR: 0.55, CI: 0.34–0.87, p = 0.027). Men had over three times the odds of daily tobacco use than women (OR: 3.18, CI: 2.29–4.43, p < 0.001). Among women, paid employment nearly doubled the odds of daily tobacco use (OR: 1.72, CI: 1.08–2.73, p = 0.006) than unemployment. For all participants, income > $10,000 was associated with over twice the odds of high blood pressure (BP) (OR: 2.24, CI: 1.43–3.51, p = 0.003), versus lower-income (<$5,000). Men had over twice the odds of high BP (OR: 2.01, CI: 1.43–2.83, p < 0.001) than women. Paid employment nearly doubled the odds of central obesity with the magnitude of association increasing by more than 20% adjusted for sex and age. Men reporting paid employment had three times the odds of central obesity (OR: 3.00, CI: 1.56–5.78, p < 0.001) than those unemployed.
Our analysis revealed associations between socioeconomic position and selected CVD risk factors, which varied by risk-factor, sex and age characteristics, and direction of association. The 2002 Pohnpei dataset provides country-level baseline information; further population health surveillance might define trends. Stronger country-level data might help decision-makers tailor population-based prevention strategies.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-895) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4158138  PMID: 25175388
Micronesia; Health disparities; Chronic disease; Cardiovascular disease risk factors; Health determinants
18.  Socioeconomic and Race/Ethnic Patterns in Persistent Infection Burden Among U.S. Adults 
The pathophysiological mechanisms that underlie health disparities by socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity are poorly understood. Promising new research suggests that the burden of persistent infection may influence adult disease risk and mortality. This article examines how multiple persistent infections cluster within individuals and how this clustering varies by socioeconomic position and race/ethnicity in U.S. adults.
We analyze data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III (N = 19,275) for adults aged 17–90 years. The clustering of infections within individuals is studied using tetrachoric correlations. Multiple indicator multiple cause models are used to analyze the infection burden construct as measured by seropositivity to Helicobacter pylori, cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex virus-1, and hepatitis B, focusing on the burden's distribution by socioeconomic position and race/ethnicity. The results are corroborated using ordered logistic regression for a commonly used count index of individual infections.
Seroprevalence of individual persistent infections is positively correlated, suggesting common factors related to exposure or susceptibility. Education, income, and race/ethnicity are strong and significant independent predictors of infection burden in U.S. adults in all models.
The disproportionate burden of persistent infections among disadvantaged groups across all ages may be one biologic pathway by which low socioeconomic position is related to increased rates of morbidity and mortality in the United States.
PMCID: PMC2655034  PMID: 19196638
Socioeconomic; Race; Ethnic; United states; Adults; Infection; Biomarkers
19.  Do Psychosocial Stress and Social Disadvantage Modify the Association Between Air Pollution and Blood Pressure? 
American Journal of Epidemiology  2013;178(10):1550-1562.
Researchers have theorized that social and psychosocial factors increase vulnerability to the deleterious health effects of environmental hazards. We used baseline examination data (2000–2002) from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. Participants were 45–84 years of age and free of clinical cardiovascular disease at enrollment (n = 6814). The modifying role of social and psychosocial factors on the association between exposure to air pollution comprising particulate matter less than 2.5 µm in aerodynamic diameter (PM2.5) and blood pressure measures were examined using linear regression models. There was no evidence of synergistic effects of higher PM2.5 and adverse social/psychosocial factors on blood pressure. In contrast, there was weak evidence of stronger associations of PM2.5 with blood pressure in higher socioeconomic status groups. For example, those in the 10th percentile of the income distribution (i.e., low income) showed no association between PM2.5 and diastolic blood pressure (b = −0.41 mmHg; 95% confidence interval: −1.40, 0.61), whereas those in the 90th percentile of the income distribution (i.e., high income) showed a 1.52-mmHg increase in diastolic blood pressure for each 10-µg/m3 increase in PM2.5 (95% confidence interval: 0.22, 2.83). Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that there are stronger associations between PM2.5 exposures and blood pressure in persons of lower socioeconomic status or those with greater psychosocial adversity.
PMCID: PMC3888274  PMID: 24064742
air pollution; blood pressure; population groups; social environment; social medicine; social psychology
20.  The association of leisure-time physical activity and active commuting with measures of socioeconomic position in a multiethnic population living in the Netherlands: results from the cross-sectional SUNSET study 
BMC Public Health  2012;12:815.
In most European origin populations measures of socioeconomic position are positively associated with leisure time physical activity (LTPA), this is unclear for active commuting. In addition, these associations have scarcely been studied in ethnic minority groups, who often have a high cardiovascular disease risk. Because of the expected public health potential, we assessed the relationship of active commuting and LTPA with measures of socioeconomic position across two large ethnic minority groups in the Netherlands as compared to the European-Dutch population.
We included South Asian-Surinamese (n = 370), African-Surinamese (n = 689), and European-Dutch (n = 567) from the cross-sectional population-based SUNSET study (2001–2003). Active commuting and LTPA were assessed by the SQUASH physical activity questionnaire and calculated in square-root-transformed metabolic equivalents of task-hours/week (SQRTMET). Socioeconomic position was indicated by level of education (low/high) and occupational class (low/high). We used age-adjusted linear regression models to assess the association between physical activity and socioeconomic position.
Compared to the European-Dutch men, South Asian-Surinamese men engaged in lower levels of commuting activity and LTPA, and South Asian-Surinamese women engaged in lower levels of LTPA than their European-Dutch counterparts. Differences between the African Surinamese and the European-Dutch were small. We observed a positive gradient in active commuting activity for education in European-Dutch men (beta high education was 0.93, 95%CI: 0.45-1.40 SQRTMET higher versus low education), in South Asian-Surinamese men (beta: 0.56, 0.19-0.92), but not in African-Surinamese men (−0.06, -0.45-0.33, p for ethnicity-interaction = 0.002). In women we observed a positive gradient in active commuting activity and occupational class in European-Dutch women, and less strongly in South Asian-Surinamese and African-Surinamese women (p for ethnicity-interaction = 0.02). For LTPA and socioeconomic position, we observed no statistically significant interaction by ethnicity.
The positive gradient for socioeconomic position observed in European-Dutch was less strong, in particular for active commuting, among the South Asian-Surinamese and the African-Surinamese. This indicates that the typical focus on physical activity interventions in lower socioeconomic groups could work for European-Dutch populations, but this strategy may not be entirely applicable in the ethnic minority groups.
PMCID: PMC3490879  PMID: 22998730
Ethnicity; African; Indian; Social class; Physical activity; Commuting; Transportation; Ethnic groups; Health behavior; Minority health
21.  Chronic pain, perceived stress, and cellular aging: an exploratory study 
Molecular Pain  2012;8:12.
Chronic pain conditions are characterized by significant individual variability complicating the identification of pathophysiological markers. Leukocyte telomere length (TL), a measure of cellular aging, is associated with age-related disease onset, psychosocial stress, and health-related functional decline. Psychosocial stress has been associated with the onset of chronic pain and chronic pain is experienced as a physical and psychosocial stressor. However, the utility of TL as a biological marker reflecting the burden of chronic pain and psychosocial stress has not yet been explored.
The relationship between chronic pain, stress, and TL was analyzed in 36 ethnically diverse, older adults, half of whom reported no chronic pain and the other half had chronic knee osteoarthritis (OA) pain. Subjects completed a physical exam, radiographs, health history, and psychosocial questionnaires. Blood samples were collected and TL was measured by quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). Four groups were identified characterized by pain status and the Perceived Stress Scale scores: 1) no pain/low stress, 2) no pain/high stress, chronic pain/low stress, and 4) chronic pain/high stress. TL differed between the pain/stress groups (p = 0.01), controlling for relevant covariates. Specifically, the chronic pain/high stress group had significantly shorter TL compared to the no pain/low stress group. Age was negatively correlated with TL, particularly in the chronic pain/high stress group (p = 0.03).
Although preliminary in nature and based on a modest sample size, these findings indicate that cellular aging may be more pronounced in older adults experiencing high levels of perceived stress and chronic pain.
PMCID: PMC3298803  PMID: 22325162
Chronic pain; Perceived stress; Knee osteoarthritis; Telomere length; Cellular aging
22.  Independent Associations of Fasting Insulin, Glucose, and Glycated Haemoglobin with Stroke and Coronary Heart Disease in Older Women 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(8):e263.
Evidence suggests that variations in fasting glucose and insulin amongst those without frank type 2 diabetes mellitus are important determinants of cardiovascular disease. However, the relative importance of variations in fasting insulin, glucose, and glycated haemoglobin as risk factors for cardiovascular disease in women without diabetes is unclear. Our aim was to determine the independent associations of fasting insulin, glucose, and glycated haemoglobin with coronary heart disease and stroke in older women.
Methods and Findings
We undertook a prospective cohort study of 3,246 British women aged 60–79 y, all of whom were free of baseline coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, and all of whom had fasting glucose levels below 7 mmol/l. Fasting insulin and homeostasis model assessment for insulin sensitivity (HOMA-S) were linearly associated with a combined outcome of coronary heart disease or stroke (n = 219 events), but there was no association of fasting glucose or glycated haemoglobin with these outcomes. Results were similar for coronary heart disease and stroke as separate outcomes. The age, life-course socioeconomic position, smoking, and physical activity adjusted hazard ratio for a combined outcome of incident coronary heart disease or stroke per one standard deviation of fasting insulin was 1.14 (95% CI 1.02–1.33). Additional adjustment for other components of metabolic syndrome, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, fasting glucose, and glycated haemoglobin had little effect on this result.
Our findings suggest that in women in the 60–79 y age range, insulin resistance, rather than insulin secretion or chronic hyperglycaemia, is a more important risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke. Below currently used thresholds of fasting glucose for defining diabetes, neither fasting glucose nor glycated haemoglobin are associated with cardiovascular disease.
From a prospective study of women aged 60-79 years, Debbie Lawlor and colleagues conclude that insulin resistance is an important risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke.
Editors' Summary
Narrowing of the vessels that take blood to the heart and brain is a common form of cardiovascular disease—i.e., a disorder of the heart and blood vessels. It is a major cause of illness and death. By starving the heart and brain of oxygen, this condition causes coronary heart disease (CHD; heart problems such as angina and heart attacks) and strokes. A major risk factor for CHD and strokes is diabetes, a common chronic disease characterized by high levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood. In people who don't have diabetes, the hormone insulin controls blood-sugar levels. Insulin, which is released by the pancreas after eating, “instructs” insulin-responsive muscle and fat cells to absorb the glucose (released from food) from the bloodstream. In the very early stages of type 2 diabetes (the commonest type of diabetes, also called “adult onset” or “noninsulin-dependent” diabetes”), muscle and fat cells become unresponsive to insulin, so blood-sugar levels increase. This is called “insulin resistance.” The pancreas responds by making more insulin. As a result, people with insulin resistance have high blood levels of both insulin (hyperinsulinemia) and glucose (hyperglycemia). Eventually, the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas start to malfunction, insulin secretion decreases, and type 2 diabetes is the result.
Why Was This Study Done?
It is not yet clear whether it is insulin resistance or reduced insulin secretion that is responsible for the association between diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Physicians would like to know this information to help them to prevent CHD and strokes in their patients. There is evidence that variations in fasting glucose levels (blood glucose measured more than 8 h after eating), which provide an indication of how well pancreatic cells are producing insulin, and in fasting insulin levels, which provide an indication of insulin resistance, determine cardiovascular disease risk among people without type 2 diabetes, but the relative importance of these risk factors is unclear. In this study, the researchers have investigated whether markers of insulin resistance (fasting hyperinsulinemia) and of altered insulin secretion (fasting hyperglycemia, and increased glycated hemoglobin, which indicates how much sugar has been in the blood over the past few months) are associated with CHD and strokes in elderly women without diabetes. Their aim is to gain new insights into how diabetes affects cardiovascular disease risk.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers measured glucose, insulin, and glycated hemoglobulin in fasting blood samples taken from about 3,000 women aged 60–79 y when they enrolled in the British Women's Heart and Health Study. None of the women had CHD at enrollment, none had had a stroke, none had diagnosed diabetes, and all had a fasting blood glucose below 7 mmol/l (a higher reading indicates diabetes). After monitoring the women for nearly 5 y for CHD and strokes, the researchers looked for statistical associations between the occurrence of cardiovascular disease and markers of insulin resistance and reduced insulin secretion. They found that fasting insulin levels, but not fasting glucose or glycated hemoglobin levels, were associated with CHD and stroke, even after allowing for other factors that affect cardiovascular disease risk such as smoking and physical activity. In other words, raised fasting insulin levels increased the women's risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results indicate that in elderly women without diabetes, fasting insulin (a marker of insulin resistance) is a better predictor of future cardiovascular disease risk than fasting glucose or glycated hemoglobin (markers of reduced insulin secretion). This suggests that insulin resistance might be the main mechanism linking type 2 diabetes to CHD and stroke in elderly women. (Elderly women are known to run a high risk of developing these conditions, but they have been relatively neglected in previous studies of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease.) However, because relatively few women developed CHD during the study and even fewer had a stroke, this conclusion needs confirming in larger studies, preferably ones that include more rigorous tests of insulin resistance and secretion and also include women from more ethnic backgrounds than this study did. If the association between fasting insulin levels and cardiovascular disease risk is confirmed, therapeutic interventions or lifestyle interventions (for example, increased physical activity or weight loss) that prevent or reverse insulin resistance might reduce cardiovascular disease risk better than interventions that prevent chronic hyperglycemia.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
MedlinePlus encyclopedia page on coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes (in English and Spanish)
Information for patients and caregivers from the US National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse on diabetes, including information on insulin resistance and on diabetes, heart disease, and stroke
Information on the British Women's Heart and Health Study
PMCID: PMC1952205  PMID: 17760500
23.  Sociodemographic Characteristics Explain Differences in Unprotected Sexual Behavior Among Young HIV-Negative Gay, Bisexual, and Other YMSM in New York City 
AIDS Patient Care and STDs  2013;27(3):181-190.
Young gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (YMSM) under age 30 in New York City are at high risk for acquiring HIV. Using the theoretical framing of fundamental causes, this analysis examined the extent to which sociodemographic factors (race/ethnicity, perceived familial socioeconomic status [SES], U.S.-born status, and sexual orientation) explain the likelihood that HIV-negative YMSM ages 18 and 19 engage in unprotected sexual behavior, which may place them at risk for serconversion. Data were drawn from the baseline (Wave 1) assessment of a cohort study (N=592) collected between July 2009 and May 2011. The sample consisted predominantly of racial/ethnic minority YMSM (70.8%). A high level of association was demonstrated for each of the demographic factors with unprotected sexual behaviors. Multinomial logistic regression analyses were undertaken to examine associations between demographic covariates with the likelihood of engaging in unprotected sexual behaviors with male partners (any unprotected anal intercourse, as well as unprotected receptive anal, insertive anal, and receptive oral intercourse) irrespective of partner serostatus, in the month prior to assessment. U.S-born status and perceived socioeconomic status consistently were significant in differentiating risk behaviors. Being born outside the U.S. and perceiving a lower SES was associated with greater levels of risk. These findings suggest that efforts to address the disproportionate burden of HIV disease among YMSM in the United States must not focus solely on issues of race/ethnicity, but must be tailored and targeted to low SES and foreign-born young gay and bisexual men. It is posited that these demographic factors may lead to disproportionate levels of psychosocial burdens, which engender risk.
PMCID: PMC3595956  PMID: 23442029
24.  Subgroup differences in psychosocial factors relating to coronary heart disease in the UK South Asian population☆ 
Journal of Psychosomatic Research  2010;69(4-3):379-387.
To explore the differences in psychosocial risk factors related to coronary heart disease (CHD) between South Asian subgroups in the UK. South Asian people suffer significantly higher rates of CHD than other ethnic groups, but vulnerability varies between South Asian subgroups, in terms of both CHD rates and risk profiles. Psychosocial factors may contribute to the excess CHD propensity that is observed; however, subgroup heterogeneity in psychosocial disadvantage has not previously been systematically explored.
With a cross-sectional design, 1065 healthy South Asian and 818 white men and women from West London, UK, completed psychosocial questionnaires. Psychosocial profiles were compared between South Asian religious groups and the white sample, using analyses of covariance and post hoc tests.
Of the South Asian sample, 50.5% was Sikh, 28.0% was Hindu, and 15.8% was Muslim. Muslim participants were more socioeconomically deprived and experienced higher levels of chronic stress, including financial strain, low social cohesion, and racial discrimination, compared with other South Asian religious groups. In terms of health behaviors, Muslim men smoked more than Sikhs and Hindus, and Muslims also reported lower alcohol consumption and were less physically active than other groups.
This study found that Muslims were exposed to more psychosocial and behavioral adversity than Sikhs and Hindus, and highlights the importance of investigating subgroup heterogeneity in South Asian CHD risk.
PMCID: PMC2946562  PMID: 20846539
Coronary heart disease; Psychosocial risk factors; South Asian; Subgroup differences
25.  Association of Lifecourse Socioeconomic Status with Chronic Inflammation and Type 2 Diabetes Risk: The Whitehall II Prospective Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(7):e1001479.
Silvia Stringhini and colleagues followed a group of British civil servants over 18 years to look for links between socioeconomic status and health.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Socioeconomic adversity in early life has been hypothesized to “program” a vulnerable phenotype with exaggerated inflammatory responses, so increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in adulthood. The aim of this study is to test this hypothesis by assessing the extent to which the association between lifecourse socioeconomic status and type 2 diabetes incidence is explained by chronic inflammation.
Methods and Findings
We use data from the British Whitehall II study, a prospective occupational cohort of adults established in 1985. The inflammatory markers C-reactive protein and interleukin-6 were measured repeatedly and type 2 diabetes incidence (new cases) was monitored over an 18-year follow-up (from 1991–1993 until 2007–2009). Our analytical sample consisted of 6,387 non-diabetic participants (1,818 women), of whom 731 (207 women) developed type 2 diabetes over the follow-up. Cumulative exposure to low socioeconomic status from childhood to middle age was associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in adulthood (hazard ratio [HR] = 1.96, 95% confidence interval: 1.48–2.58 for low cumulative lifecourse socioeconomic score and HR = 1.55, 95% confidence interval: 1.26–1.91 for low-low socioeconomic trajectory). 25% of the excess risk associated with cumulative socioeconomic adversity across the lifecourse and 32% of the excess risk associated with low-low socioeconomic trajectory was attributable to chronically elevated inflammation (95% confidence intervals 16%–58%).
In the present study, chronic inflammation explained a substantial part of the association between lifecourse socioeconomic disadvantage and type 2 diabetes. Further studies should be performed to confirm these findings in population-based samples, as the Whitehall II cohort is not representative of the general population, and to examine the extent to which social inequalities attributable to chronic inflammation are reversible.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Worldwide, more than 350 million people have diabetes, a metabolic disorder characterized by high amounts of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Blood sugar levels are normally controlled by insulin, a hormone released by the pancreas after meals (digestion of food produces glucose). In people with type 2 diabetes (the commonest form of diabetes) blood sugar control fails because the fat and muscle cells that normally respond to insulin by removing sugar from the blood become insulin resistant. Type 2 diabetes, which was previously called adult-onset diabetes, can be controlled with diet and exercise, and with drugs that help the pancreas make more insulin or that make cells more sensitive to insulin. However, as the disease progresses, the pancreatic beta cells, which make insulin, become impaired and patients may eventually need insulin injections. Long-term complications, which include an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, reduce the life expectancy of people with diabetes by about 10 years compared to people without diabetes.
Why Was This Study Done?
Socioeconomic adversity in childhood seems to increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes but why? One possibility is that chronic inflammation mediates the association between socioeconomic adversity and type 2 diabetes. Inflammation, which is the body's normal response to injury and disease, affects insulin signaling and increases beta-cell death, and markers of inflammation such as raised blood levels of C-reactive protein and interleukin 6 are associated with future diabetes risk. Notably, socioeconomic adversity in early life leads to exaggerated inflammatory responses later in life and people exposed to social adversity in adulthood show greater levels of inflammation than people with a higher socioeconomic status. In this prospective cohort study (an investigation that records the baseline characteristics of a group of people and then follows them to see who develops specific conditions), the researchers test the hypothesis that chronically increased inflammatory activity in individuals exposed to socioeconomic adversity over their lifetime may partly mediate the association between socioeconomic status over the lifecourse and future type 2 diabetes risk.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
To assess the extent to which chronic inflammation explains the association between lifecourse socioeconomic status and type 2 diabetes incidence (new cases), the researchers used data from the Whitehall II study, a prospective occupational cohort study initiated in 1985 to investigate the mechanisms underlying previously observed socioeconomic inequalities in disease. Whitehall II enrolled more than 10,000 London-based government employees ranging from clerical/support staff to administrative officials and monitored inflammatory marker levels and type 2 diabetes incidence in the study participants from 1991–1993 until 2007–2009. Of 6,387 participants who were not diabetic in 1991–1993, 731 developed diabetes during the 18-year follow-up. Compared to participants with the highest cumulative lifecourse socioeconomic score (calculated using information on father's occupational position and the participant's educational attainment and occupational position), participants with the lowest score had almost double the risk of developing diabetes during follow-up. Low lifetime socioeconomic status trajectories (being socially downwardly mobile or starting and ending with a low socioeconomic status) were also associated with an increased risk of developing diabetes in adulthood. A quarter of the excess risk associated with cumulative socioeconomic adversity and nearly a third of the excess risk associated with low socioeconomic trajectory was attributable to chronically increased inflammation.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show a robust association between adverse socioeconomic circumstances over the lifecourse of the Whitehall II study participants and the risk of type 2 diabetes and suggest that chronic inflammation explains up to a third of this association. The accuracy of these findings may be affected by the measures of socioeconomic status used in the study. Moreover, because the study participants were from an occupational cohort, these findings need to be confirmed in a general population. Studies are also needed to examine the extent to which social inequalities in diabetes risk that are attributable to chronic inflammation are reversible. Importantly, if future studies confirm and extend the findings reported here, it might be possible to reduce the social inequalities in type 2 diabetes by promoting interventions designed to reduce inflammation, including weight management, physical activity, and smoking cessation programs and the use of anti-inflammatory drugs, among socially disadvantaged groups.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The US National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse provides information about diabetes for patients, health-care professionals, and the general public, including information on diabetes prevention (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information for patients and carers about type 2 diabetes; it includes peoples stories about diabetes
The nonprofit Diabetes UK also provides detailed information about diabetes for patients and carers, including information on healthy lifestyles for people with diabetes, and has a further selection of stories from people with diabetes; the nonprofit Healthtalkonline has interviews with people about their experiences of diabetes
MedlinePlus provides links to further resources and advice about diabetes (in English and Spanish)
Information about the Whitehall II study is available
PMCID: PMC3699448  PMID: 23843750

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