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Open Access Research article

Gender, socio-economic status and metabolic syndrome in middle-aged and old adults

Ana C Santos1*, Shah Ebrahim2 and Henrique Barros1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology, University of Porto Medical School, Porto, Portugal

2 Department of Epidemiology and Population Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK

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BMC Public Health 2008, 8:62  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-62

Published: 18 February 2008



Studies that addressed social and economic determinants of cardiovascular diseases, consistently showed an increase prevalence of the individual features of metabolic syndrome in the lower socio-economic strata. Thus, this study aimed to evaluate the association between social class and metabolic syndrome in a sample of urban middle-aged and old Portuguese adults.


We evaluated 1962 subjects (1207 women and 755 men) aged 40 or more years. Marital status, education, occupation, menarche age and height distribution were used as socioeconomic indicators. Metabolic syndrome was defined according to the ATP III, by the presence of at least three of the following characteristics: waist circumference >102 cm in men and >88 cm in women; triglycerides ≥ 150 mg/dl; HDL cholesterol <40 mg/dl in men and <50 mg/dl in women; blood pressure ≥ 130/85 mm Hg; and fasting glucose ≥ 110 mg/dl. Proportions were compared using the chi square test or Fisher's exact test. Odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) were computed using unconditional logistic regression to estimate the magnitude of the associations.


Metabolic syndrome was significantly more frequent in females (24.9 vs. 17.4, p < 0.001). In females, the odds favoring metabolic syndrome significantly increased with age and in unfavorable social class as described by occupation, and decreased with education level. In males, metabolic syndrome was significantly more frequent in the 60–69 years age class (OR = 1.82; 95%CI: 1.02–3.26) when compared to those in the 40–49 years age class. Concerning other socioeconomic indicators no significant associations were found.


This study showed that gender influenced the association of socio-economic status indicators with metabolic syndrome. Females in lower social classes, as defined by education and occupational classification, more frequently presented metabolic syndrome, no such association was found in males.