Early Life Determinants

A significant public health goal is to maximize healthspan, the period of life in which individuals remain relatively free of physical and cognitive impairment. Understanding the lifecourse processes leading to change in health, physical function, and cognition is a major goal of two research networks of longitudinal studies: The Integrative Analysis of Longitudinal Studies on Aging (IALSA) and Healthy Ageing across the Lifecourse (HALCyon; PI: Diana Kuh). The scientific discovery of factors across the life course that are determinants of health and age-related functional change is a major priority internationally. We are working together to facilitate coordination of analyses across longitudinal studies, permitting opportunities for comparison of independent study results across samples that differ in birth cohort and country and provide a basis for synthesizing evidence across longitudinal studies of aging. 

Sean Clouston is leading several papers on the causal benefit of educational attainment on later life cognition. Educational attainment is highly correlated with adult fluid cognition, but the nature of this association remains controversial. In one paper, we test alternative theories explaining the association between education and cognition in three internationally comparable, prospective birth cohort studies from the U.S. and U.K., each having measures of adolescent cognition, educational attainment, parental social class, and adult fluid cognition. We find that while adolescent cognition predicts educational attainment, earning a university degree provides a substantial additional benefit to adult fluid cognition. Comparison across cohorts suggests that contextual factors modify the educational effect, with greater benefits of education for those with lower adolescent cognition in the U.S. 1939 cohort and for women in the 1946 U.K. cohort.