Stress and Health| Volume 28, ISSUE 3, P258-266, May 2018

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A Longitudinal Analysis of Allostatic Load among a Multi-Ethnic Sample of Midlife Women: Findings from the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation

Published:December 08, 2017DOI:



      We examined longitudinal patterns and sociodemographic correlates of allostatic load (AL), a measure of cumulative biological risk and aging, in a sample of midlife women consisting of non-Hispanic White, African American, Chinese, and Japanese women.


      Longitudinal cohort data from the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation were used to examine AL patterns in midlife women ages 42–53 (n = 1,932). AL measures were created using 10 biomarkers representing cardiovascular, inflammatory, neuroendocrine, and metabolic system functioning. We used longitudinal random effects Poisson regression models to assess change in AL over the 7-year follow-up period and associations between sociodemographic factors and AL.


      On average, a woman's AL score increased 2% each year over the course of the study. Baseline measures of African American race, low family income, older age, and ability to read and speak only in English were significantly associated with higher levels of AL over the study period. We did not observe significant differences in rates of change in AL by race/ethnicity or socioeconomic status.


      This study demonstrates that AL increases in a cumulative manner as women age. Midlife is an especially important time in women's life course with respect to health maintenance and healthy aging. AL can be an early warning indicator of subsequent disease burden, pointing to subclinical conditions and the need for implementation of medical and public health interventions earlier in the disease process.
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      Laura Chyu, PhD, is a lecturer in the Public Health Program at Santa Clara University. Her areas of interest lie in women's health over the life course, social disparities in health, and embodiment of social contexts.


      Dawn M. Upchurch, PhD, LAc, is Professor of Public Health at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. She studies women's health and well-being, emphasizing psychosocial stressors and lifestyle behaviors on health, and alternative and integrative medicine strategies to improve women's health.