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Host of evidence shows lifelong effect of childhood poverty

Host of evidence shows lifelong effect of childhood poverty

The persistent effects of early life hardship, why it is not good for the children and how we all benefit from healthier communities at The New York Times

Even those who later ascend economically may show persistent effects of early-life hardship. Scientists find them more prone to illness than those who were never poor. Becoming more affluent may lower the risk of disease by lessening the sense of helplessness and allowing greater access to healthful resources like exercise, more nutritious foods and greater social support; people are not absolutely condemned by their upbringing. But the effects of early-life stress also seem to linger, unfavorably molding our nervous systems and possibly even accelerating the rate at which we age.

…scientists have found links, independent of current income, between early-life poverty and a higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and arthritis in adulthood.

“Early-life stress and the scar tissue that it leaves, with every passing bit of aging, gets harder and harder to reverse,” says Robert Sapolsky, a neurobiologist at Stanford. “You’re never out of luck in terms of interventions, but the longer you wait, the more work you’ve got on your hands.”

This research has cast new light on racial differences in longevity. In the United States, whites live longer on average by about five years than African-Americans. But a 2012 study by a Princeton researcher calculated that socioeconomic and demographic factors, not genetics, accounted for 70 to 80 percent of that difference….

Some now argue that addressing health disparities and their causes is not just a moral imperative, but an economic one. It will save money in the long run. The University of Chicago economist James Heckman estimates that investing in poor children yields a yearly return of 7 to 10 percent thereafter to society.

The article is part of The Great Divide series at the NYT’s Opinionator.


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Jenny Landis-Steward

The ACE study

conducted in LA also documents the lifelong impact of emotional and social trauma.

Weiwen Ng

I want to highlight one more mechanism by which lifelong stresses accumulate for lower-income individuals: environmental health.

In particular, lower-income Americans may be more likely to reside near coal plants. They may move there by their own choice because housing costs are lower, or they may have less political clout to prevent coal plants from being built near them. In either case, coal plants vary in how well they clean out pollutants like heavy metals and nitrogen oxides (the plant’s operators can install scrubbing equipment, they can buy coal with fewer pollutants, etc). Some coal plants and their operators do reasonably well, others are middling, others are terrible. Even the best coal plants probably don’t do a good job, because coal is inherently dirty even if you disregard CO2 completely.

Over time, heavy metals and particulates will accumulate in our blood and lungs. They cause small but cumulative damage. Heavy metals are likely to have neurological impacts. A lifelong effect, in other words.

Also, coal mining has a high accident rate.

I know that coal fueled the industrial revolution, but its time should be over. When people complain that the EPA’s air pollution standards will decimate the industry or they accuse the administration of declaring war on coal, they are saying that they disregard the health of people living near coal plants.

Tom Sramek Jr

“early life hardship and why it is good for the children”? Think you’re missing a “not” or something there…

(Fixed. Thanks for proofing, Tom. – eds.)

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