Wealth Biomarkers

October 2010

The Milkmaid, Johannes VermeerI’m a fan of both longitudinal population studies and of the work of public health researcher Michael Marmot from the University College London. His previous work on Whitehall studies I and II revealed a correlation between a person’s health indicators, and their position within the British public sector. Much of his work has revolved around the notion of how personal autonomy affects a person’s ability to choose healthy behaviour. 

Recently released analysis of the English Longitudinal Aging Study (ELAS) reveals some potentially interesting results around, amongst other things, measured biomarkers and an individual’s wealth.


The analysis of data from British citizens over the age of 50 shows what appears to be a statistically significant correlation between the serum level of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and their wealth quartiles. (see first table)

What exactly does this mean? At the moment it’s just a correlation between two variables, and its difficult to draw any conclusions. What exact role this steroid androgen precursor may play in the health outcomes is unclear. There is nothing to suggest that replacement of low normal DHEA levels with will improve outcomes, and if the correlation is robust, may simply be an indirect indicator of multiple health behaviours in people in the upper wealth quartiles. You’ll see if you examine the data (second table) on physical activity and wealth, wealthy people are significantly more likely to be physically active. DHEA levels might simply be an indirect reflection of this and other behavioural disparities.

The significance of this research is in its ability to improve the evidence base for policy development. If we understand the factors at that lead to poor health behaviour (that ends up costing both the individual and the tax payers), we’re in a better position to effect real change.


Interestingly, Edward Jenner picked up on one of the first wealth biomarkers in 1796. He was a general practitioner in England who observed that milkmaids were spared the telltale facial scars of smallpox that seemed to afflict the female aristocracy. He postulated that cowpox exposure amongst the milkmaids protected them from developing this disfiguring disease. He tested his theory by innoculating a semi-willing subject with cowpox, later exposed him to smallpox, and by documenting his resistance, developed the world’s first official smallpox vaccine.


You can get a copy of the ELAS analysis here.

Posted via email from Pieter Peach


  • Irldexter

    You don’t know what you don’t know but when you do… now, can you hold it in your being, make sense of it and garner utility to affect behaviour change? I think you might enjoy some discourse on AGI and people like 

    What shall we do when we know the hidden patterns and will knowing them change them? What is driving you to See Inside™ ? Tell me… ;)