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BACKGROUND: The fraily index is a useful proxy measure of accelerated biological ageing and in estimating all-cause and cause-specific mortality in older individuals in European and US populations. However, the predictive value of the frailty index in other populations outside of Europe and the USA and in adults younger than 50 years is unknown. We aimed to examine the association between the frailty index and mortality in a population of Chinese adults. METHODS: In this prospective cohort study, we used data from the China Kadoorie Biobank. We included adults aged 30-79 years from ten areas (five urban areas and five rural areas) of China who had no missing values for the items that made up the frailty index. We did not exclude participants on the basis of baseline morbidity status. We calculated the follow-up person-years from the baseline date to either the date of death, loss to follow-up, or Dec 31, 2017, whichever came first, through linkage with the registries of China's Disease Surveillance Points system and local residential records. Active follow-up visits to local communities were done annually for participants who were not linked to any established registries. Causes of death from official death certificates were supplemented, if necessary, by reviewing medical records or doing standard verbal autopsy procedures. The frailty index was calculated using 28 baseline variables, all of which were health status deficits measured by use of questionnaires and physical examination. We defined three categories of frailty status: robust (frailty index ≤0·10), prefrail (frailty index >0·10 to <0·25), and frail (frailty index ≥0·25). The primary outcomes were all-cause mortality and cause-specific mortality in Chinese adults aged 30-79 years. We used a Cox proportional hazards model to estimate the associations between the frailty index and all-cause and cause-specific mortality, adjusting for chronological age, education, and lifestyle factors. FINDINGS: 512 723 participants, recruited between June 25, 2004, and July 15, 2008, were followed up for a median of 10·8 years (IQR 10·2-13·1; total follow-up 5 551 974 person-years). 291 954 (56·9%) people were categorised as robust, 205 075 (40·0%) people were categorised as prefrail, and 15 694 (3·1%) people were categorised as frail. Women aged between 45 years and 79 years had a higher mean frailty index and a higher prevalence of frailty than did men. During follow-up, 49 371 deaths were recorded. After adjustment for established and potential risk factors for death, each 0·1 increment in the frailty index was associated with a higher risk of all-cause mortality (hazard ratio [HR] 1·68, 95% CI 1·66-1·71). Such associations were stronger among younger adults than among older adults (pinteraction<0·0001), with HRs per 0·1 increment of the frailty index of 1·95 (95% CI 1·87-2·03) for those younger than 50 years, 1·80 (1·76-1·83) for those aged 50-64 years, and 1·56 (1·53-1·59) for those 65 years and older. After adjustments, there was no difference between the sexes in the association between the frailty index and all-cause mortality (pinteraction=0·75). For each 0·1 increment of the frailty index, the corresponding HRs for risk of death were 1·89 (95% CI 1·83-1·94) from ischaemic heart disease, 1·84 (1·79-1·89) from cerebrovascular disease, 1·19 (1·16-1·22) from cancer, 2·54 (2·45-2·63) from respiratory disease, 1·78 (1·59-2·00) from infection, and 1·78 (1·73-1·83) from all other causes. INTERPRETATION: The frailty index is associated with all-cause and cause-specific mortality independent of chronological age in younger and older Chinese adults. The identification of younger adults with accelerated ageing by use of surrogate measures could be useful for the prevention of premature death and the extension of healthy active life expectancy. FUNDING: The National Natural Science Foundation of China, the National Key R&D Program of China, the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, the Kadoorie Charitable Foundation, and the Wellcome Trust.

Original publication




Journal article


Lancet Public Health

Publication Date





e650 - e660