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Social disadvantage, genetic sensitivity, and children’s telomere length

By Colter Mitchella, John Hobcraftb, Sara S. McLanahanc, Susan Rutherford Siegeld, Arthur Bergd, Jeanne Brooks-Gunne, Irwin Garfinkelf, and Daniel Nottermand

Disadvantaged social environments are associated with adverse health outcomes. This has been attributed, in part, to chronic stress. Telomere length (TL) has been used as a biomarker of chronic stress: TL is shorter in adults in a variety of contexts, including disadvantaged social standing and depression. We use data from 40, 9-y-old boys participating in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to extend this observation to African American children. We report that exposure to disadvantaged environments is associated with reduced TL by age 9 y. We document significant associations between low income, low maternal education, unstable family structure, and harsh parenting and TL. These effects were moderated by genetic …

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