Unfairness and the social gradient of metabolic syndrome in the Whitehall II Study

Roberto De Vogli, Eric Brunner, Michael G. Marmot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Objectives: Little work has investigated the relationship between unfairness and risk factors for heart disease. We examine the role of unfairness in predicting the metabolic syndrome and explaining the social gradient of the metabolic syndrome. Methods: The design is a prospective study with an average follow-up of 5.8 years. Participants were 4128 males and 1715 females of 20 civil service departments in London (Whitehall II study). Sociodemographics, unfairness, employment grade, behavioral risk factors, and other psychosocial factors were measured at baseline (Phase 3, 1991-1993). Waist circumference, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, fasting glucose, and hypertension were used to define metabolic syndrome at follow-up (Phase 5, 1997-2000), according to the National Cholesterol Education Program/Adult Treatment Panel III guidelines. Results: Unfairness is positively associated with waist circumference, hypertension, triglycerides, and fasting glucose and negatively associated with serum HDL cholesterol. High levels of unfairness are also associated with the metabolic syndrome [odds ratio (OR)=1.72, 95% CI=1.31-2.25], after adjustment for age and gender. After additional adjustment for employment grade, behavioral risk factors, and other psychosocial factors, the relationship between high unfairness and metabolic syndrome weakened but remained significant (OR=1.37, 95% CI=1.00-1.93). When adjusting for unfairness, the social gradient of metabolic syndrome was reduced by approximately 10%. Conclusion: Unfairness may be a risk factor for the metabolic syndrome and its components. Future research is needed to study the biological mechanisms linking unfairness and the metabolic syndrome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)413-419
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Psychosomatic Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Justice
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Psychosocial factors
  • Social class
  • Unfairness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Psychology(all)


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