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Health and wellbeing across the life-course

Health and wellbeing across the life span is an emerging field, and a number of approaches have been developed to understand some of the key issues involved.

The health and wellbeing across the life course model (Larkin 2013)

This model highlights the changes that individuals undergo throughout the different stages in life. It assumes that there is a need for health interventions at all of the different stages in life to ensure that the overall outcome is positive.

The model argues that all individuals accumulate both positive and negative incidents and issues throughout life, for example:

  • Addressing obesity or diabetes
  • Tackling health inequalities
    • The Marmot Review: Fair Society, Health Lives (2010) was a landmark study of health inequalities in England. While there has been progress in some areas since 2010, there is growing evidence that health inequalities are widening and life expectancy is stalling.
  • Mental health and physical health needs have to be met.
    • Health and wellbeing disadvantage can occur before birth and be followed through the life of a person. The environment can also play a key role in issues of health and wellbeing.

In addition, the model also asserts that risks taken in young adulthood can have negative outcomes in midlife:

Smoking Lung and pulmonary diseases, neurological damage, COPD, cancers
Excessive alcohol consumption Abuse, mortality, heart disease, stroke, cancers, liver cirrhosis, GI problems, psychological problems
Recreational drug use Psychiatric disorders, lower income, welfare dependence, unemployment, violent and drug-related death
Obesity High blood pressure, stroke, high cholesterol, hearing loss, diabetes, cancer
Marital conflict/divorce Poor mental and physical health, depression, psychiatric disorders, mood anxiety, lower wellbeing

The epidemiological approach

This type of approach studies health and wellbeing from the perspective of how often diseases occur in different groups of people and why.

One model created by Lynch and Smith (2005) argues that:

  • There are critical periods in life where exposure to risk can have a life-long effect
    • Body organs etc.
    • Development of disease can occur across the life course
  • Some chronic conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases have long latency periods, they develop over time
    • Time lags between exposure and recognition suggest that exposures early in life are involved in disease
  • Timing and exposure to events determines impact on health

Older age

Older age brings with it a number of health and wellbeing issues:

Early retirement

  • While retirement can be an attractive prospect, research suggests that early retirement (before the age of 65) brings a risk of higher mortality rates
  • Lower income, or loss of income
  • Risk of social isolation - 1/3 of those over 65 are lonely

Reduction in activity

  • As we age our levels of activity reduce which can impact health and wellbeing


This can have a big impact on mood and wellbeing and it can also affect physical health

  • If it’s early there is a risk of osteoporosis
  • If it’s later there is a risk of breast cancer


  • The risk of dementia onset rises with age. It is estimated to affect 25% of those over 85. It can be the cause of early retirement

Role of carer

  • In an ageing society more and more of us are taking on the role of carer to elderly parents, this can add to an already busy lifestyle, and have a negative impact on wellbeing


Larkin, M.,J. (2013) Health and Well-being Across the Life Course [online] Los Angeles: Sage. available from https://locate.coventry.ac.uk/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=COV_ALMA5194610760002011&context=L&vid=COV_VU1&search_scope=LSCOP_COV&isFrbr=true&tab=local&lang=en_US [10th May 2019]

Lynch, J., D., Smith, G. (2005) ‘A Life Course Approach to Chronic Disease Epidemiology’ Annual Review of Public Health [online] 26, 1-35. available from https://locate.coventry.ac.uk/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=TN_scopus2-s2.0-17444383417&context=PC&vid=COV_VU1&search_scope=Primo_Central&tab=remote&lang=en_US [10th May 2019]

Marmot, M., Atkinson, A., Bell, J., Black, C., Broadfoot, P., Cumberledge, J., Diamond, I., Gilmore, I., Ham, C., Meacher, M., Mulgan, G. (2010) ‘Fair Society Healthy Lives: The Marmot Review’. Institute of Health and Equality [online]. available from http://www.instituteofhealthequity.org/resources-reports/fair-society-healthy-lives-the-marmot-review [28th March 2019]

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This article is from the free online course:

Wellbeing at Work: An Introduction

Coventry University