Adverse childhood experiences and physiological wear-and-tear in midlife: Findings from the 1958 British birth cohort
Barboza Solís, Cristina
Fantin, Romain Clement
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Allostatic load (AL) is a measure of overall physiological wear-and-tear over the life course, which could partially be the consequence of early life exposures. AL could allow a better understanding of the potential biological pathways playing a role in the construction of the social gradient in adult health. To explore the biological embedding hypothesis, we examined whether adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are associated with elevated AL in midlife. We used imputed data on 3,782 women and 3,753 men of the National Child Development Study in Britain followed up seven times. ACEs were measured using prospective data collected at ages 7, 11, and 16. AL was operationalized using data from the biomedical survey collected at age 44 on 14 parameters representing four biological systems. We examined the role of adult health behaviors, body mass index (BMI), and socioeconomic status as potential mediators using a path analysis. ACEs were associated with higher AL for both men and women after adjustment for early life factors and childhood pathologies. The path analysis showed that the association between ACEs and AL was largely explained by early adult factors at age 23 and 33. For men, the total mediated effect was 59% (for two or more ACEs) via health behaviors, education level, and wealth. For women, the mediated effect represented 76% (for two or more ACEs) via smoking, BMI, education level, and wealth. Our results indicate that early psychosocial stress has an indirect lasting impact on physiological wear-and-tear via health behaviors, BMI, and socioeconomic factors in adulthood.