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Journal Article

The moderating effect of childhood disadvantage on the associations between smoking and occupational exposure and lung function; a cross sectional analysis of the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS)


Publication date

Jun 2019


Lung function is lower in people with disadvantaged socio-economic position (SEP) and is associated with hazardous health behaviours and exposures. The associations are likely to be interactive, for example, exposure to socially patterned environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) in childhood is associated with an increased effect of smoking in adulthood. We hypothesise that disadvantaged childhood SEP increases susceptibility to the effects of hazards in adulthood for lung function. We test whether disadvantaged childhood SEP moderates smoking, physical activity, obesity, occupational exposures, ETS and air pollution’s associations with lung function.
Data are from the Nurse Health Assessment (NHA) in waves two and three of the United Kingdom Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS). Analysis is restricted to English residents aged at least 20 for women and 25 for men, producing a study population of 16,339. Lung function is measured with forced expiratory volume in the first second (FEV1) and standardised to the percentage of expected FEV1 for a healthy non-smoker of equivalent age, gender, height and ethnicity (FEV1%). Using STATA 14, a mixed linear model was fitted with interaction terms between childhood SEP and health behaviours and occupational exposures. Cross level interactions tested whether childhood SEP moderated household ETS and neighbourhood air pollution’s associations with FEV1%.
SEP, smoking, physical activity, obesity, occupational exposures and air pollution were associated with lung function. Interaction terms indicated a significantly stronger negative association between disadvantaged childhood SEP and currently smoking (coefficient -6.47 %, 95% confidence intervals (CI): 9.51 %, 3.42 %) as well as with formerly smoking and occupational exposures. Significant interactions were not found with physical activity, obesity, ETS and air pollution.
The findings suggest that disadvantaged SEP in childhood may make people’s lung function more susceptible to the negative effects of smoking and occupational exposures in adulthood. This is important as those most likely to encounter these exposures are at greater risk to their effects. Policy to alleviate this inequality requires intervention in health behaviours through public health campaigns and in occupational health via health and safety legislation.

Published in

BMC Public Health







Drug/Alcohol Abuse, Health, Life Course Analysis, and Social Stratification


© The Author(s). 2019; Open Access; This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.


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