People who grew up in working class families are more likely to suffer heart problems later in life even if their own socioeconomic status changes, says new research.

A study from St George’s, University of London, in collaboration with University College London, looked at the socioeconomic position of more than 2000 British people in childhood, early adulthood and middle age and its impact on their heart at 60–64 years.

While it is well known that people from the lower socio-economic groups are more likely to suffer heart disease, the research found that specific elements of the structure and function of the heart are more likely to be affected in people from lower socio-economic groups.

The study defined social class as people in manual occupations, compared to others who were in non-manual occupations, including professions.

Dr Emily Murray, from UCL’s Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, who led the research at St George’s, University of London, said the results were a particular concern in the context of the current obesity epidemic.

“What really stood out was that children who grew up in working class environments, were more likely to be overweight later on, leading to heart problems in middle age,” she said.

“But very few of the study participants were overweight in their childhood as they experienced rationing during the 1940s, but nearly a third of UK children aged 2–15 are overweight or obese today.

“This means significant interventions are needed to prevent obesity related disease becoming a much bigger problem.

“If we are trying to design interventions to prevent heart failure, then this research would suggest that efforts to prevent obesity in children from working class backgrounds could be important in preventing higher rates of heart failure in the future.”

Study participants were part of the Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development and have been followed up since their birth in 1946.

The research was published in the PLOS One journal.