Weathering within war: Somatic health complaints among Vietnamese older adults exposed to bombing and violence as adolescents in the American war

Elsevier, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 2022
Delaney J. Glass, Yvette M. Young, Toan Khanh Tran, Patrick Clarkin, Kim Korinek

People living in war may experience deteriorating health via weathering (wear and tear) from long-term exposures to psychosocial and environmental stressors. Weathering embodied in somatic health complaints may illuminate the effects of war on health.

We investigate whether wartime stress exposures occurring during adolescence and early adulthood affect weathering in late adulthood via linear regression with data from the Vietnamese Health and Aging Study (VHAS). VHAS is a cross-sectional study wherein investigators surveyed 2447 adults aged 60+ in four districts of northern and central Vietnam in 2018. These same individuals ranged in age from seven to 52 in 1965, with most having been in adolescence or early adulthood at the peak of the American war in Vietnam (1965–1975). The sample used for this study (n = 2254) were participants in the first VHAS wave in 2018.

We find older Vietnamese adults exposed to higher-intensity provincial bombing suffer more numerous somatic health complaints (unstandardized β = 0.005, SE = 0.001, p = 0.001). Additionally, greater health complaints emerge among older adults whose most intense bombing exposures were at younger ages of adolescence (< age 15) as compared to those whose peak exposures were in older ages (19–25) (unstandardized β = 0.62 95%, SE = 0.19, p = 0.01).

Our findings suggest that age of exposure to armed conflict is a critical determinant of weathering across the life course.