This review was undertaken for the Faculty and Institute of Actuaries as part of their programme to encourage research collaborations between health researchers and actuaries in order to understand better the factors influencing mortality and longevity. The authors presented their findings in a number of linked sessions at the Edinburgh conference (Joining Forces on Mortality and Longevity) in October 2009 and contributed to this overview. The purpose is to review evidence for the impact on adult mortality of characteristics of the individual's lifetime socioeconomic or psychosocial environment or phenotype at the behavioural; multi-system (e.g. cognitive and physical function); or body system level (e.g. vascular and metabolic traits) that may be common risk factors for a number of major causes of death. This review shows there is growing evidence from large studies and systematic reviews that these individual characteristics, measured in pre-adult as well as the adult life, are associated with later mortality risk. The relative contribution of lifetime environment, genetic factors and chance, whether these contributions change with age, and the underlying social and biological pathways are still to be clarified. This review identifies areas where further life course research is warranted.
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