Journal Article

Pathways to health and well-being

Myrskylä, M., Gagnon, A., Bengtsson, T.

Social Science and Medicine, 119, 175-179 (2014)


Keywords: health, mortality, old age


Adverse early-life conditions have lasting effects on old-age health and mortality (Almond, 2006, Barker, 1992, Barker, 1994, Mazumder et al., 2010 and Roseboom et al., 2006). Some have even considered reductions in early life disease exposure to be a primary driver of historical mortality declines (Finch and Crimmins, 2004). Consequently, understanding the mechanisms through which early and later life are linked is important for the development of strategies for population health and successful ageing. Prior research shows that exposure to disease (Bengtsson and Lindström, 2000, Bengtsson and Lindström, 2003 and Crimmins and Finch, 2006), nutritional deprivation (Barker, 1994), or adverse socioeconomic conditions (Hayward and Gorman, 2004 and Smith, 1997) early in life, possibly as early as in the fetal stage but also in early childhood, are linked to worsened adult health. Evidence from natural or quasi-natural experiments suggests that the association between these and other adverse early-life conditions and later health may be causal. Although numerous pathways have been postulated, including those relating to fetal under-nutrition, dysregulation of the immune function, and compromised socioeconomic attainment (Barker, 1994, Costa, 2000, Gluckman et al., 2008 and Schulz, 2010), the mechanisms remain largely unclear. The aim of this Special Issue is to analyse the pathways through which early-life experiences are related to later-life health, and whether the associations are mediated, moderated, or buffered by intermediate characteristics such as own socioeconomic attainment at young adult ages. We have included 13 papers that cover key early-life exposures and take advantage of two complementary conceptual frameworks for understanding the mechanisms.