Growing up in poverty and under other social stresses shortens kids' telomeres, making them more vulnerable to cancer and aging-related disorders, Quartz reports.
A study from Daniel Notterman and his colleagues drew on data from the multi-year Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study of 4,500 children born between 1998 and 2000 in urban areas. For this, Notterman and his team focused on the extremes and examined the DNA of the 40 kids with the most and least advantages from that study.
Kids living in harsher conditions had, on average, telomeres that were 19 percent shorter than their advantaged peers, they found. They also noted that some children appeared to be more susceptible than others to telomere shortening, leading the researchers to speculate that genetics also plays a role.
"This is one of the first studies to tangibly show that certain people are innately more sensitive to stress than other people," Notterman tells Quartz. He adds that his team is expanding their study to the wider FFCWS cohort to see if their findings hold for a larger study size.
"At this stage, which is still early in our understanding, everything we've learned is consistent with policies that attempt to intervene early in a child's life," Notterman adds.