Contact: Danielle Roubinov, Ph.D.
For Release: Immediately
There’s a solid link between a family’s socioeconomic status (SES) and children’s health: The lower the family’s SES, the higher their kids’ risk for poor health. Of course, every parent can become well educated and affluent only in a fantasy world.
But a path-breaking new study suggests there may be other ways to protect young children from the harmful health effects of growing up in a poorer family. An array of neighborhood qualities—for example, closeness to parks and open spaces, nearness to employment and high-quality early childhood education centers, healthy food availability and distance from toxic waste—all seem to buffer children from the impaired health tied to life in a low SES family. The study is published online ahead of print and will appear in a forthcoming issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, journal of the American Psychosomatic Society.
Study participants included 338 ethnically diverse kindergarten students, along with their parents and teachers. Children’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol were measured on three consecutive days in the fall and spring, says study author Danielle Roubinov, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Psychiatry at University of California, San Francisco. Parents reported their income and education in the fall. Parents and teachers also filled out questionnaires about the children’s health in both the fall and spring.
Every child was evaluated with the Child Opportunity Index, a newer scale developed by researchers at Brandeis and Ohio State University. It measures more than a dozen qualities of a neighborhood that could influence child development. Some, such as the volume of toxic waste, clearly could affect a child’s health. Other aspects, such as the housing vacancy rate and student math scores, look more distant from children’s health.
But this neighborhood opportunity index overall stood out in identifying kids whose health was protected from the damaging effects of poverty. During the fall, those from highopportunity communities showed no link between their stress hormone levels and family SES. However, children reared in lower SES families had higher cortisol when they lived in lower quality neighborhoods than in the more advantaged ones. That suggests more biological arousal from stress, which is associated with poorer health, says Roubinov.
And, most importantly, lower family SES predicted poorer physical health in the spring only for kids living in lower-opportunity neighborhoods. The health of low SES children didn’t decline if they lived in communities with more resources.
The take-home message: Improving community resources could go a long way toward protecting the health of children reared in poorer families. “It may be harder to raise family income on a household by household basis,” notes Roubinov. “But improvements at the neighborhood level have the potential to reach many more families, with really expansive benefits for children’s health.”
The American Psychosomatic Society (APS) (http://www.psychosomatic.org), founded in 1943, is an international multidisciplinary academic society that organizes an annual scientific meeting and educational programs. Psychosomatic Medicine is its scientific journal. The membership of over 700 is composed of academic scientists and clinicians in medicine, psychiatry, epidemiology, health psychology and allied health services. The mission of the APS is “to advance and integrate the scientific study of biological, psychological, behavioral and social factors in health and disease.”