april 2022

Educational Attainment and Lifestyle Risk Factors Associated With All-Cause Mortality in the US

IMPORTANCE: The US has experienced increasing socioeconomic inequalities and stagnating life expectancy. Past studies have not disentangled 2 mechanisms thought to underlie socioeconomic inequalities in health, differential exposure and differential vulnerability, that have different policy implications.

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the extent to which the association between socioeconomic status (SES) and all-cause mortality can be decomposed into a direct effect of SES, indirect effects through lifestyle factors (differential exposure), and joint effects of SES with lifestyle factors (differential vulnerability).

DESIGN SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS: This nationwide, population-based cohort study used the cross-sectional US National Health Interview Survey linked to the National Death Index. Civilian, noninstitutionalized US adults aged 25 to 84 years were included from the 1997 to 2014 National Health Interview Survey and were followed up until December 31, 2015. Data were analyzed from May 1 to October 31, 2021. A causal mediation model using an additive hazard and marginal structural approach was used.

EXPOSURES: Both SES (operationalized as educational attainment) and lifestyle risk factors (smoking, alcohol use, obesity, and physical inactivity) were assessed using self-reported questionnaires.

MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Time to all-cause mortality.

RESULTS: Participants included 415 764 adults (mean [SD] age, 49.4 [15.8] years; 55% women; 64% non-Hispanic White), of whom 45% had low educational attainment and 27% had high educational attainment. Participants were followed up for a mean (SD) of 8.8 (5.2) years during which 49 096 deaths (12%) were observed. Low educational attainment (compared with high) was associated with 83.6 (men; 95% CI, 81.8-85.5) and 54.8 (women; 95% CI, 53.4-56.2) additional deaths per 10 000 person-years, of which 66% (men) and 80% (women) were explained by lifestyle factors. Inequalities in mortality were primarily a result of greater exposure and clustering of unhealthy lifestyle factors among low SES groups; with some exceptions among women, little evidence of differential vulnerability was identified.

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: In this cohort study, differential exposure to lifestyle risk factors was an important mediator of socioeconomic inequalities in mortality. Public health interventions are needed, particularly among low SES groups, to address smoking, physical inactivity, alcohol use, and the socioenvironmental contexts within which these risk factors develop.

Additional Info

  • Authors

    Puka K.; Buckley C.; Mulia N.; Lasserre A. M.; Rehm J.; Probst C.
  • Issue

    JAMA Health Forum . 2022 Apr;3(4):e220401
  • Published Date

    april 2022