The incidence of metabolic syndrome (MetS) strongly varies by socioeconomic position (SEP), but little is known about the mediating role of health behaviours in this association. This study examines the associations between the SEP measures, education, income and occupational prestige, and incident MetS and whether the associations are mediated by health behaviours, including physical activity, smoking, alcohol intake and diet quality.
A subsample (n = 85,910) of the adult Lifelines Cohort Study without MetS at baseline was used. MetS was measured at the second assessment (median follow-up time 3.8 years) defined according to the NCEP-ATPIII criteria. Direct associations between SEP, health behaviours and incident MetS were estimated using multivariable logistic regression analyses. The mediating percentages of health behaviours explaining the associations between SEP and incident MetS were estimated using the Karlson-Holm-Breen method. Analyses were independent of age, sex, the other SEP measures and follow-up time.
Education and occupational prestige were inversely associated with MetS. Income was not associated with MetS. Health behaviours explained only partly (13.8%) the association between education and MetS, with smoking as the strongest mediating factor (8.8%). Health behaviours played also a minor role (2.7%) in explaining occupational MetS differences, with physical activity as the strongest suppressing factor (-9.4%).
Individuals with more years of education or a higher occupational prestige had a lower risk to develop MetS. This was mainly because of non-smoking, less excessive alcohol intake and a higher diet quality. However, individuals with a higher SEP were more often physically inactive.
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