Lower socioeconomic status (SES) is consistently associated with poor health, yet little is known about the biological mechanisms underlying this inequality. In children, we examined the impact of early-life SES trajectories on the intensity of global innate immune activation, recognizing that excessive activation can be a precursor to inflammation and chronic disease.
Stimulated interleukin-6 production, a measure of immune responsiveness, was analyzed ex vivo for 267 Canadian schoolchildren from a 1995 birth cohort in Manitoba, Canada. Childhood SES trajectories were determined from parent-reported housing data using a longitudinal latent-class modeling technique. Multivariate regression was conducted with adjustment for potential confounders.
SES was inversely associated with innate immune responsiveness (p = 0.003), with persistently low-SES children exhibiting responses more than twice as intense as their high-SES counterparts. Despite initially lower SES, responses from children experiencing increasing SES trajectories throughout childhood were indistinguishable from high-SES children. Low-SES effects were strongest among overweight children (p<0.01). Independent of SES trajectories, immune responsiveness was increased in First Nations children (p<0.05) and urban children with atopic asthma (p<0.01).
These results implicate differential immune activation in the association between SES and clinical outcomes, and broadly imply that SES interventions during childhood could limit or reverse the damaging biological effects of exposure to poverty during the preschool years.