Children who grow up in poverty may be at risk of poor health in later life, even if they escape poverty when they are older according to research from the University of Geneva.
In the new study of over 24,000 people across 14 countries, researchers found that individuals, particularly women, of lower socioeconomic status in childhood had lower hand grip strength in older adulthood. This is a reliable health indicator, predicting the risk of frailty, disability and death from cardiovascular disease and cancer in older age.
“This suggests that childhood adversity doesn’t just affect our choices, but also directly compromises the biological ability of our bodies to stay healthy,” Noortje Uphoff, a researcher in social epidemiology, wrote on the online news site, The Conversation.
“Our childhood affects our health across the course of our lives. Stress, it seems, is a major contributor.”
This may come from social tensions, domestic abuse, neglect, food and fuel poverty, unsafe or poor quality housing, and separation from caregivers, she says.
“Now, we have evidence that growing up in poverty has a cumulative wear-and-tear effect on the physiological systems that govern how our bodies respond to our environment, permanently disrupting the ability of affected individuals to maintain good health in old age.
“While more work is still needed to understand how early adversity affects our immune system and other physiological systems in later life, one thing is already clear. To make our society less stressed, happier and healthier, we need to recognise just how crucial a role hardship in childhood plays in determining an individual’s long-term health.”