Childhood and Adult Socioeconomic Position, Cumulative Lead Levels, and Pessimism in Later Life
The VA Normative Aging Study
Published in: American Journal of Epidemiology, v. 174, no. 12, Dec. 2011, p. 1345-1353
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Pessimism, a general tendency toward negative expectancies, is a risk factor for depression and also heart disease, stroke, and reduced cancer survival. There is evidence that individuals with higher lead exposure have poorer health. However, low socioeconomic status (SES) is linked with higher lead levels and greater pessimism, and it is unclear whether lead influences psychological functioning independently of other social factors. The authors considered interrelations among childhood and adult SES, lead levels, and psychological functioning in data collected on 412 Boston area men between 1991 and 2002 in a subgroup of the VA Normative Aging Study. Pessimism was measured by using the Life Orientation Test. Cumulative (tibia) lead was measured by x-ray fluorescence. Structural equation modeling was used to quantify the relations as mediated by childhood and adult SES, controlling for age, health behaviors, and health status. An interquartile range increase in lead quartile was associated with a 0.37 increase in pessimism score (P < 0.05). Low childhood and adult SES were related to higher tibia lead levels, and both were also independently associated with higher pessimism. Lead maintained an independent association with pessimism even after childhood and adult SES were considered. Results demonstrate an interrelated role of lead burden and SES over the life course in relation to psychological functioning in older age.