Healthy aging starts even before birth - Folkhälsan
06 September 2023

Healthy aging starts even before birth

Promoting healthy aging could be particularly beneficial for persons coming from families with lower socio-economic status.

En äldre kvinna med pärlhalsband, örhängen och ljus stickad tröja sitter på en parkbänk bredvid en yngre kvinna iklädd brun tröja. Kvinnorna håller varandra i handen och den yngre håller sin arm runt den äldres axlar.

A Folkhälsan study found that the conditions in the earliest stages of life influence healthy aging. Length of education and socio-economic status of one's childhood family are associated with survival and the absence of chronic diseases throughout the entire lifespan. For men, this so-called healthy survival was also associated with lower maternal body mass index at the end of pregnancy.

The study is part of the Helsinki Birth Cohort Study (HBCS), which focuses on health from a life-cycle perspective. More than 13,000 men and women born between 1934 and 1944 in Helsinki participated in the study.

Healthy survival is a prerequisite for healthy aging, but the concept of healthy aging encompasses a wider range of individual functioning and well-being, such as mobility and psychological well-being.

The research reveals that the majority of all individuals reaching retirement age do not age healthily.

– Less than half reaches the age 65 alive and healthy. Of those who were alive at 65, less than half could be defined as healthy," says Tuija Mikkola, Senior Researcher at Folkhälsan Research Center.

Additionally, factors such as a healthy diet and non-smoking in late middle age were associated with healthy aging.

– It should be noted that previous life stages also affect healthy aging on population level. Promoting healthy aging could be especially beneficial for those coming from families with lower socioeconomic status, Mikkola adds.

A unique feature of this longitudinal study is that it follows individuals from birth up to the age of 84. The earliest information about the participants came from birth records, and the cohort was followed through registers from early adulthood to the age of 84. In addition, some individuals underwent clinical measurements at an average age of 76.

The study published in The Lancet Healthy Longevity can be read here. 

More information:
Tuija Mikkola
Senior Researcher, Folkhälsan Research Center
Phone: +358 44 488 3045, E-mail: 

Johan Eriksson
Principal investigator of the HBCS, Folkhälsan Research Center
Phone: +359 40 501 6595, E-mail: