Resilience, Accelerated Aging and Persistently Poor Health: Diverse Trajectories of Health among the Global Poor

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Objectives: This study is among the first to document lifecourse trajectories of physical and mental health across adult and older ages (20-70 years) for a poor sub-Saharan African population having faced frequent and sustained adversities.

Methods: The 2006-19 waves of the Malawi Longitudinal Study of Families and Health (MLSFH) were analyzed using group-based trajectory models (GBTM) to identify trajectories of heath (SF12 mental/physical health and BMI) across the lifecourse. Predictors of trajectory membership were estimated using fractional multinomial logits.

Results: Analyses identified three distinct trajectories: (1) good initial mental/physical health that persisted throughout the lifecourse ("resilient aging"); (2) good initial mental and physical health that deteriorated with age ("accelerated aging"); or (3) poor initial mental and physical health with possibly further declines over the lifecourse ("aging with persistently poor health"). Predictors of trajectory group membership included gender, childhood poverty, and schooling.

Discussion: Despite lifecourses being characterized by poverty and frequent adversities in this poor population, our analyses identified a sizable group (30%) of resilient individuals who experienced successful aging with good initial health that persisted across the lifecourse and into old age. Accelerated aging was the most common trajectory for SF12 physical and mental health in this poor population, while for BMI, persistently poor health was most common. Men were more likely to enjoy resilient aging than women in terms of physical/mental health, contrary to previous findings from high-income contexts. Other predictors of trajectory membership sometimes confirmed, and sometimes contradicted, hypotheses derived from high-income country studies.