How blood and wealth can predict future disability

Published by  Communications

On 9th Dec 2020

Blood tests for ‘biomarkers’ such as cholesterol and inflammation could predict whether you will be disabled in five years – according to research from the University of East Anglia.

A new study shows how people’s biological health can predict disability and healthcare demand in five years’ time.

But the researchers also found that people on higher-incomes were more likely to seek GP appointments and outpatient treatments for their medical problems - with evidence of pro-rich inequity across all types of health service use.

Dr Apostolos Davillas from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “We know that the poorest people in England miss out on more than a decade of good health compared with the richest.

“We wanted to find out more about the links between people’s social status and their future health - and see whether blood tests could predict future disability and use of health care services.”

The researchers looked at elevated bloodstream ‘biomarkers’ – these are the tell-tale markers linked to different diseases, and they are an objective measure of health.

Biomarkers can tell researchers a lot about what is going on in people’s bodies – even before symptoms of disease begin. Testing for ‘bad’ cholesterol in the bloodstream for example can show a risk of heart disease.

Dr Davillas’ previous research has shown how biomarkers for stress are linked with socioeconomic position and revealed some of the hidden mechanisms connecting social inequality to health.

The researchers studied blood biomarkers from 5,286 participants involved in Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study.

They looked at things like cholesterol, liver and kidney function and inflammation – the body’s response to infections or chronic stress.

They also looked at measures of obesity, grip strength, resting heart rate, blood pressure, and lung function among the participants.

Dr Davillas said: “What we found is that underlying biomarker differences are linked with future disability – and that we could actually predict people’s level of disability in five years’ time, based on the biomarkers in their blood.

“We also found that people’s biological health is linked with future demand on healthcare services such as GP and outpatient consultations, as well as time spent in hospital.

“We tried to investigate the mechanism for why this happens and found that people with impaired biological health may develop disability in five years’ time – resulting in increased health care and social needs.”

But as a by-product of the analysis, the team found that people with higher incomes were more likely to seek the health care they need for their medical problems. This means that there is pro-rich inequity in health care use. 

“In a publicly funded health care system, pro-rich inequity in health care use may be because people on lower low-incomes are heavily time-constrained, due to harsher employment and living arrangements, and may be more constrained in seeking the health care they need,” Said Dr Davillas.

The team say their work has important policy implications, particularly for screening programmes and prevention strategies.

Dr Davillas said: “We found that the markers which matter most for disability progression are associated with lung function, grip strength, obesity, anaemia, stress-related hormones and liver function.

“Indicators such as blood pressure and cholesterol, which are the current focus of public health screening programs, are less useful as predictors of disability.

“The NHS England Health Check program mainly offers blood pressure, cholesterol tests and BMI measurements every five years to those aged 40-74.

“But our research shows that a broader set of blood-based biomarkers should be considered for public health screening programmes.

“This is increasingly feasible using dried blood spot sampling - drops of whole blood collected on filter paper from a finger prick - which offers a minimally invasive basis for carrying out a wide range of blood tests at low cost. 

“We also focused our study on people who were apparently healthy, so they wouldn’t normally be prioritised by the health care system. We hope our findings could lead to better policies for prevention strategies – which could potentially help the NHS save money.

“Moreover, our results show pro-rich inequity across all types of health service use.

“We hope our findings will help lead to policies to secure more equal health care opportunities across the UK.”

This research was co-authored by Dr Apostolos Davillas at UEA with Prof Stephen Pudney from the University of Sheffield.

Biomarkers, disability and health care demand’ is published in the December issue of the journal Economics & Human Biology.

Latest News

  News
15 Jan 2021

New project aims to improve rates of patients taking medicines for type 2 diabetes

The University of East Anglia (UEA) is working with the Universities of Oxford and Amsterdam to test a community pharmacy service designed to support people with...

Read more >
  News
14 Jan 2021

2020 ends earth’s warmest 10 years on record

The latest data confirms 2020 concludes the earth’s warmest 10-year period on record.

Read more >
  News
11 Jan 2021

The true cost of chemotherapy

Chemotherapy for breast cancer costs the UK economy more than £248 million annually, including ‘out-of-pocket’ personal costs of more than £1,000 per patient –...

Read more >
  News
Unhealthy eating during lockdown
07 Jan 2021

We drank more, exercised less, in lockdown – study shows

Lockdown saw people in the UK eating less fruit and veg, getting less exercise and drinking more alcohol – according to research from the University of East Anglia.

Read more >
Are you searching for something?
  News
Unhealthy eating during lockdown
07 Jan 2021

We drank more, exercised less, in lockdown – study shows

Lockdown saw people in the UK eating less fruit and veg, getting less exercise and drinking more alcohol – according to research from the University of East Anglia.

Read more >
  News
05 Jan 2021

Covid-19: How five days of ‘liberty’ ruined the November lockdown

The UK-wide November lockdown didn’t work as well as it should have because too many people made the most of their liberty in the run-up to it – according to new...

Read more >
  News
Football magazines
18 Dec 2020

Football stickers and magazines expose kids to gambling logos despite ban

Every children’s football magazine and over 40% of collectible stickers and cards feature gambling logos, despite the ban on marketing betting to children, new...

Read more >
  News
Prof Corinne Le Quere
17 Dec 2020

Ground-breaking UEA PhD scholarships to bring together climate science and creative writing

With the next ten years seen as being a profound and critical decade for climate change, UEA has brought together two of its most celebrated fields of study,...

Read more >
  News
Field activities in the Choco cacao expedition
17 Dec 2020

Biodiversity key to economic development in Colombia

The natural resources of one the world’s most biodiverse countries are the key to its economic future, according to new research led by the University of East...

Read more >
  News
16 Dec 2020

The Covid-19 university challenge

Universities should keep their windows fully open and students shouldn’t share personal items – according to new University of East Anglia research into reducing...

Read more >
  News
Anne Enright, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Christie Watson
16 Dec 2020

Prize-winning authors and literary icons in UEA Live’s spring line-up

The celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the Creative Writing programme at the University of East Anglia (UEA) will continue apace in 2021, with tickets...

Read more >