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Better Neighborhoods May Buffer Impacts of Childhood Poverty

Low-income children who live in higher opportunity neighborhoods may be protected from some of the negative health impacts associated with growing up poor, according to a new study by researchers at San Francisco State University and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

Higher opportunity neighborhoods tend to have more green spaces, better schools and greater access to social services.

Research has shown that children from low-income families are more likely to experience lower birth weight, higher rates of injury, childhood obesity, chronic stress and poorer overall health. In addition, broader environmental concerns such as polluted air are known to have negative health impacts, including diseases like asthma.

But until recently, not as much has been known about the middle-ground influence of neighborhoods. The study is one of the first to look at the influence of both socioeconomic status and neighborhoods on children’s health.

“We know that income is one of the biggest social determinants of health and that it gets more impactful over the life span. So anything that can offset the negative effects of one’s personal or family income, besides raising your income, is notable and important,” said San Francisco State Assistant Professor of Psychology Melissa Hagan.

Hagan conducted the study with UCSF lead author Dr. Danielle Roubinov and three other UCSF researchers. They analyzed 338 kindergarten-aged children from six public schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. They took saliva samples during the fall and spring to measure the children’s levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress.

The researchers also looked at parental income and education to evaluate socioeconomic status and used the Childhood Opportunity Index to evaluate neighborhood quality and opportunities like green spaces, social services and schools.

In the fall, the researchers discovered that low-income children living in neighborhoods with fewer opportunities had higher cortisol levels than children from neighborhoods with more opportunities.

In the spring, they found that these same children were in worse physical health as evaluated by teachers and parents than children who lived in higher opportunity neighborhoods, but their cortisol levels were not as high as in the fall.

Hagan says that could be because many children experience higher stress levels at the beginning of the school year than at the end. Still, their cortisol levels were higher than in children from neighborhoods with more resources.

“What’s most important is demonstrating the ways in which income and economic resources can act on health at different levels,” said Hagan. “If children who are living in low-income families can be supported by being in a community that offers appropriate resources, it’s pretty notable that their physical health can benefit.”

Source: San Francisco State University



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