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Poverty, Race, and Telomeres

Poor people tend to have short telomeres, according to a study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco's Elizabeth Blackburn and colleagues. The effect, they add, appears to stratify by ethnicity. While telomeres shorten with age, premature shrinking has been linked to numerous health concerns.

The researchers collected blood samples from 239 black, white, or Mexican adults from three Detroit neighborhoods and surveyed the participants about certain stressors, as they report in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. After analyzing telomere lengths and comparing them to socioeconomic and other factors affecting the participants, Blackburn and her colleagues found that low-income residents of Detroit all had telomeres that were shorter than the national average.

Then looking by ethnicity, the researchers saw that poor white people had shorter telomeres than non-poor whites, while poor and non-poor black people had similar telomere lengths and poor Mexicans had longer telomeres than non-poor Mexicans.

The researchers suggest that poor Mexicans in Detroit tended to be first-generation immigrants and live in tight-knit neighborhoods while non-poor Mexicans in the study were second-generation immigrants who might be more exposed to negative stereotypes. At the same time, they say black Detroit residents regardless of income level tended to also report satisfaction with their neighborhoods and physical environment.

Meanwhile, poor white people reported less social networking support and could thus be less protected "from the health effects of poverty, stigma, anxiety, or hopelessness in this setting," the researchers say.

"So much of what makes people either well-being or not is not coming from within themselves, it's coming from their circumstances. It makes me think much more about social justice and the bigger issues that go beyond individuals," Blackburn tells the Huffington Post.