The Journal of Perinatology published research on babies born to mothers who did not finish high school and determined that, possibly due to socioeconomic stress, those babies are more likely to be born with decreased chromosome protection. This means that babies raised in poverty may have additional health risks.
The ends of chromosomes have covers called telomeres. These covers act as buffers against the loss of protein-coding DNA during cell division. Telomeres can become too short over time, or due to stress. Shortened telomeres do not allowing cells to multiply to replenish body tissues. This process of shortening of chromosome-cover could to be associated with risk for certain chronic diseases.
While the protective telomere cover shortening happens naturally with aging, research shows that both psychological and biological stress can speed up the process.
Studies from the University of Sydney in Australia have shown that the length of telomeres in newborns can vary, either due to genetics or to significant stress factors, such as the mother smoking, using drugs or having improper nutrition during pregnancy. In addition, very young children with identified shorter telomeres showed early signs of vascular disease.
Because telomere biology is still a new field, the various research suggests that being in stressed environments affects children at the molecular level; furthermore, other studies identified short telomeres in adults who had experienced childhood psychological stress.
Opportunity to Improve
A child's health can improve if they are experiencing a positive change or have moved into a safe family environment. However, it is not known whether these affected children could regain their telomere buffers.