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Children from poorer families are more likely to suffer from inflammation

11 December 2019

Children from families of low socioeconomic status (SES) are more likely to show over-activation of the immune system leading to wear and tear on the brain and the body, new research by UCL Institute of Education (IOE) shows.

Upset child covering face with hands

This wear and tear is known as inflammation. The research showed that poverty and low SES had direct effects on inflammation in children as young as 9 years old. In addition to this, poverty and low SES were also associated with stressful life events, in turn leading to inflammation.

Children from low SES families were more likely to be exposed to upsetting and stressful situations, and the research showed there was a relationship between this and higher inflammatory markers at 9 years old.

The researchers looked at data on 4,525 children of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a general population birth cohort. They explored associations between SES at ages 0-3 years, upsetting life events at ages 3-9 years and inflammatory markers in middle childhood, at age 9 years.

The researchers accounted for differences in body mass index, gender and upsetting life events at ages 0-3 years and found that early socioeconomic disadvantage predicted higher levels of inflammatory markers, even after adjusting for these factors.

The study also showed that upsetting events from early to middle childhood explained part of the association between early SES and inflammation in middle childhood. This is the first study to provide evidence suggesting that upsetting life events may be a reason for the link between early SES and inflammation so early in development. 

Co-author Professor Eirini Flouri said: “Inflammation, associated with several health conditions and mental health problems, is carefully regulated throughout childhood and adolescence and accumulates with age through biological ageing and via behavioural, psychosocial and environmental pathways. Our study showed for the first time that poverty as well as poverty-related stressors activate pro-inflammatory tendencies in children as young 9 years old. 

“The data we had available did not allow us to examine associations longitudinally or in younger ages, which would be useful to do in future research.”

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