The immune system is dynamically interconnected with the outside world — even childhood poverty has long-lasting effects on how the immune response gets shaped and regulated throughout life.
Childhood poverty is related to adult productivity, as measured in terms of work hours and earnings. More specifically, childhood poverty leads to low income in adulthood, as it influences the ability to sustain full-time work. How? Poverty — especially between the prenatal and second year of life — appears responsible for an increased risk of developing, as a young adult, chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure and arthritis. High blood pressure and arthritis are disruptive for daily activities, causing people to work fewer hours and earn less than their peers.
Kathleen Ziol-Guesta and her colleagues designed a study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and titled “Early childhood poverty, immune-mediated disease processes, and adult productivity” (October 16, 2012), in which they tracked adults whose families lived in poverty in the year before they were born through age two.
The results of the study show that low income in very early childhood is associated with lower annual earnings and a lower number of work hours — however, hourly earnings do not change. This finding suggests that it is the ability to work more that is affected, and not how much people earn per hour.
The adults in the study suffered from high blood pressure and arthritis at twice the rate of people from higher income families, and developed these chronic disorders (which are typically considered diseases of old age) as early as age 30.
The researchers believe that the association between early childhood poverty and the development of chronic conditions may be mediated by the immune system — more specifically, they believe that the inflammatory response undergoes changes caused by childhood poverty and leads to development of chronic inflammatory disorders (high blood pressure and arthritis) in early adulthood. Clearly, detailed immunological studies are necessary to test this hypothesis.
One of the study conclusions is that “the incomes of the most economically disadvantaged families should be of greatest concern, particularly during the years when these families have young children.”
Copyright © 2014 Immunity Tales.
When one thinks about it’s almost like common sense that early childhood poverty would cause devastating effects on the immune system. One’s immune system will be stronger with a healthy diet, healthy environment, and less stress. Nutrition is crucial for immune response development and early childhood poverty causes immunodeficiency. Protein malnutrition is related to harm of phagocyte function, cytokine production, antibodies productions, and etc. Childhood poverty is a serious issue and instead of doing research with the correlation between early childhood poverty and the immune system, there should be more focus on helping how to solve childhood poverty.
I have to disagree with your first statement about it being common sense that early childhood poverty would have a negative effect on one’s immune system. In fact I thought the complete opposite before reading the article. I was thinking along the lines that individuals who suffered from poverty would be exposed to more pathogens as opposed to people who do not suffer from poverty. This would in turn have a positive effect on their immune system by increasing it’s repertoire when it comes to fighting infection because it has already been exposed to a myriad of infections due to living in poverty. However I do agree with you that more research needs to go towards figuring out how to end childhood poverty instead of determining the correlation between childhood poverty and their immune system.
The fact that childhood poverty causes a bad effect on the immune system is not surprising at all. There is also the fact that a majority of those who live in poverty cannot afford going to the doctors leading to many of them not being vaccinated and also not knowing when they are sick. Not only does these adults suffer from high blood pressure and arthritis but also probably a lower life expectancy, higher risk for infectious disease, higher rate of substance abuse, depression, stress and much more all causing a major impact on the immune system. It is a very sad situation because not only do the adults suffer but also the children they might have. The point of the matter is poverty does more than effect the immune system it can kill and this is an issue that should be more look upon. It should be an issue that’s not only being research but resolved.
I completely agree! I really do think that this issue is pretty much common sense. Maybe one day an immune system booster type medicine can be made so that children that lived in poverty can prevent the life threatening issues like high blood pressure and arthritis. I think it was interesting to see that this issue linked specifically the inflammatory response. I suppose that would be because the inflammatory response is the first response for the innate immune system.
It is imprecise to say that poverty causes negative effects on the immune system. It is more appropriate to say that poverty is highly correlated to lack of access to lack of quality health care, health care education, and proper nutrition. The difference is subtle, but significant. The article clearly states that studies are necessary to test the hypothesis that poverty negatively impacts the immune system. Though I believe that the alleviation of poverty would go a long way to improve health outcomes, the most benefits would result from working to provide aid for the poor while concurrently conducting further research on the effects of poverty on the immune system.
I agree that there is a correlation between childhood poverty and some healthcare deficits. This article does not account for the diet of the adults who were children living in poverty. The adults could have a very poor diet due to a lack of knowledge of a proper diet. They could also not exercise because they do not have the time to since they may be working more hours to pay bills. This could cause a stress load on the body causing them to become sick and miss days of work. Aspects such as the aforementioned undermine the study. So as JHernandez stated it be more precise to say that there is a correlation between poverty and poor health.
I do understand your point in saying there is a correlation between poverty and healthcare deficiencies rather than saying poverty causes a negative effects on the immune system. I realize I cannot make a claim that poverty cause a DIRECT effect on the immune system, thanks for pointing that out to me. I do think though that tbrown you are right as well, on how the diets of those who live in poverty should be look at as well because there can also be a correlation between what they are eating and their health . I also did not think about how stress could impact their body and their immunity, which make me think about those who don’t live in poverty. They also as well get stress and worry about making a living therefore getting sick as well. So could it be more about how we take care of our body emotionally and physically rather than class. Could it be that there should be more of awareness of the importance of eating right and exercising more to everyone or should it be more direct toward those who live in poverty?
It is to be expected that poverty and being immunosuppressed are hand in hand. As stated above, those living in poverty may not have the money to pay for vaccinations for their children. They may also not be able to pay for the necessary needs such as food, water, medicine, and stable housing. All these needs are basic but necessary during the childhood. I can definitely see how high blood pressure may be linked to childhood poverty. High blood pressure can be caused from a number of things such as weight, eating habits (sodium intake and alcohol) and race. During childhood, it is possible that these kids living in poverty weren’t given the proper foods to eat and later developed the bad habits of their parents. While reading through the journal article, I noticed that race was not taken into account. I feel this is an important factor because high blood pressure is also genetic. African Americans are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure despite poverty. They also account for a majority of those living in poverty. I think this experiment/research does not take into account that some of these cases could be genetic related and not environment related. However, the journal and this article are both eye opening and makes me realize how big of a problem poverty really is. I agree with my two classmates above me, poverty is definitely something that needs to be changed. The government needs to put more resources into fixing this problem.
I also thought the same as I was reading the article. The research being done doesn’t seem to be taking into account other factors that may affect the body’s immune system. Like you said, these people may have a genetic disposition for high blood pressure, and when you combine that with a poor diet, which is expected among those living in poverty, the chances of developing high blood pressure can increase dramatically. The same can be said for those with arthritis because there are some forms of arthritis that are hereditary. Personally, I think it’s a combination of heredity and environmental factors. Where these people live and how they live can impact their chances of developing health conditions they may have inherited. As with the other readers, I believe that the priority should lie in eliminating, or at least diminishing, childhood poverty.
I didn’t think of arthritis being heredity. Thanks for letting me know that fact. I completely agree with you that it is a combination of both environmental and heredity factors that are contributing to the lower immune system of those who live in poverty. A person can be predisposed to get high blood pressure but can change that or keep it in control just by changing their diet. I also agree that childhood poverty should be eliminated but it is a daunting task that government agencies don’t have the resources for now.
I completely agree with the other two commentors, it is common sense that poverty can have detrimental effects on a child’s body. The first three years of a child’s life is the most important. This is the time where everything grows, so if a child is not getting the proper nutrients then problems occur. For instance, one huge example that correlates to the immune system, mothers breast feed for the first few months. During these months this is where a baby not only receives nutrients, but different components of the mother’s immune system, which could consist of antibodies, white blood cells, and etc. If the mother is not healthy because of her low income, which results in unhealthy food choices and the inability to receive yearly checkups, then the child won’t be healthy. Also, let’s say the mother can’t breastfeed, she doesn’t have the money to provide formula. Again nutrients are stripped from the child at a young age. This is probably why poverty children have so many problems. They didn’t receive the proper defense mechanisms at birth and later on, which resulted in becoming sick more often, and in turn lead to less working hours. There needs to be some way to end this cycle of poverty stricken mothers and child so everyone can have happy and healthy lives.
To play devil’s advocate a point could be made that by being raised in poverty in early childhood that an individual is more likely to become sick due to poor living conditions. And as this individual makes it adulthood they will subsequently have a stronger immune system more equip and adept to dealing with pathogens that someone who did not have to deal with poverty and disease as often in their early childhood. Therefore when a virus or some sickness is going around in the workplace the child of poverty is less likely to be afflicted by it and able to work while their counterpart is more likely to become ill and miss days of work.
I do see your point here, it would seem that the more exposure one has to sickness at a young age, the stronger the immunity. And that would be true if we’re talking about a virus that causes a short term sickness or so on. I think problems arise when we’re talking about a long lasting disease that one acquires early in childhood because of poverty and is prevalent later in life. For example blood pressure that our classmates were talking about earlier. If proper diet and exercise were utilized as well as a good environment to live in was provided early in life, perhaps this disease would not show up, causing a great deal of health concerns for the adult. But I have to say, you did make a good point there, I just think it depends.
What you say holds some very good points as you said if things such as proper diet, exercise, and a good environment were present some of these chronic health conditions would not exist. To take an opposing stance I point out that when it comes to high blood pressure an individual in an affluent neighborhood could have a poor diet and not exercise which could lead to that chronic disease. Something that I believe we can all agree on is that the study leaves much to be looked into in-depth to come to a more articulate conclusion on the correlation of childhood poverty and poor health in adulthood.
I found myself contemplating the same stance on this issue. In another article on this sight, we read and discussed how exposure to a dog as a child allows for a better immune system to develop and suppression of possible allergies to develop then and later in life. I would think childhood poverty would have similar effects. If having a dog in the household exposes you to more microbes, allowing you to develop better defenses of the immune system, I would think exposure to microbes through dirt, lack of hygiene, etc would cause the immune system to develop similar defenses. I can understand not having access to vaccines and certain healthcare needs that we all take for granted, but in the grand scheme of things, would individuals that suffer childhood poverty not be better prepared (immune system wise) later in life?
When I think of poverty unfortunately I think of living on the streets and eating almost anything you get your hands on. Only reading the title of this article I thought to myself that people living in poverty would have stronger immune systems than people who did not suffer from poverty. The reason I thought this is because your immune system is strengthened off of exposure to pathogens, the more exposure the stronger the immune system. It would seem that people who live in poverty would be exposed to a lot more pathogens due to the fact that they probably would suffer from bad hygiene, or be eating from trash cans. I would think this would build your immune system, however this article states the exact opposite. This may be due to the fact that the article is referring to individuals who don’t live on the streets but simply suffer from low income. In this case the diseases they suffer from which includes high blood pressure, and arthritis makes sense, because these individuals are unable to seek treatment due to their financial status. High blood pressure is combination of genetics and diet so I see why people in poverty would suffer from this because it cost more to eat healthy. However when it comes to bacterial infection I think people suffering from poverty have the upper hand because more than likely they have been exposed to pathogens more than people who don’t suffer from poverty. That statement would be referring more so to homeless people as opposed to people with low income.
It’s evident that there is some connection between poverty and a long term compromise of the immune system, but I also wonder about hidden variables in this study. Tylah first mentioned the possible difference genetic background could make. However, I am curious about the other environmental factors, such as the environment itself. After reading through the original publication, I could not find any information of the settings of these families concerning their general living conditions, specifically regarding their environment. A related post of this blog “Farmers Keep Their Distance From Allergies” presents the case that those raised in a rural settings have a stronger immune response than those raised in urban environments. It would be very interesting to study how, if at all, these two factors correlate. I would hypothesize that those raised in poverty in a rural setting would have a greater correlation to a stronger immune system than those raised in poverty in an urban setting. My main argument for this would be that urban environments are by definition more densely populated, which in turn, results in greater competition for natural resources. This would mean those impoverished in an urban setting would have much more fierce competition for resources than those an a rural setting where such resources are more abundant. On the same note I also wonder how the mortality rates would compare. The referenced article also mentions the increased exposure to microbes in the rural setting. With the added factor of poverty, I wonder if the benefits from the rural setting would overcome the disadvantages of poverty resulting in a greater survival rate. It would also be if interest to see if the decreased exposure to microbes in the urban setting would reduce stress on those raised in poverty enough to at least mitigate the damage on the immune system, or possibly overcome it.