Skip to main content

Growing up poor makes kids' DNA look old

Growing up poor makes kids' DNA look old

Share this story

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Children who grow up in underprivileged households show signs of premature chromosomal aging, reports New Scientist. Moreover, this form of genetic aging might explain why adults who grow up in poor or otherwise stressful environments are more likely to develop serious health problems, such as cancer, later in life.

This chromosomal effect is apparent in 9-year-olds

It's no secret that human beings become more vulnerable to disease as they age. Scientists think that part of this phenomenon can be explained by protective caps found on the end of our chromosomes, called telomeres, which grow shorter as we age. Telomeres help prevent our genes from sustaining various forms of damage, so their shortening can increase a person's likelihood of developing cancer, and of showing general signs of aging. But older adults aren't the only ones who experience telomere shortening. According to a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, children who grow up in disadvantaged environments also experience significant levels of telomere shortening — and this effect is apparent by the time they turn nine years old.

To reach that conclusion, scientists selected 40 9-year-old African-American boys from a sample of 4,500 children who participated in a multiyear survey study between 1998 and 2000. Researchers found that boys who grew up in poor households had telomeres that were 19 percent shorter than those who grew up in more privileged environments. They also found that children whose mothers changed partners during their childhood had telomeres that were 40 percent shorter than the children whose family structure remained largely unchanged throughout the first nine years of life.

In contrast, children whose mothers had attended college had telomeres that were 35 percent longer than the children of mothers who did not attend university.  "The social environment really conditions the way that these children are living, and their health," Daniel Notterman, a geneticist at Penn State University and co-author of the study, told New Scientist.

Regardless of upbringing, some boys were more susceptible to DNA damage

These results alone can't be used to predict future overall health, because the researchers also noticed that, regardless of upbringing, some boys were more susceptible to DNA damage than others. Some boys who grew up in more privileged environments, for example, demonstrated high levels of genetic sensitivity, and their telomeres were far shorter than those of their peers. These results might seem intuitive — some people appear to be healthier than others, no matter what — but this study is among the first to show that certain people are more sensitive to stress than others, regardless of the environment in which they were brought up.

Of course, a sample size of 40 isn't enough to draw concrete conclusions about the role of a kid's environment in overall genetic health, so researchers are planning to expand the study to a much larger group of children. Should the results prove reproducible, the scientists' conclusions will lend considerable power to the idea that interventions by social workers and therapists in early childhood can significantly improve a person's well-being later in life. As Notterman told New Scientist, this "could be an argument for some people who want to intervene earlier in the lives of children."

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 24 Striking out

E
External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.


A
Youtube
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.


A
The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.


A
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Looking for something to do this weekend?

Why not hang out on the couch playing video games and watching TV. It’s a good time for it, with intriguing recent releases like Return to Monkey Island, Session: Skate Sim, and the Star Wars spinoff Andor. Or you could check out some of the new anime on Netflix, including Thermae Romae Novae (pictured below), which is my personal favorite time-traveling story about bathing.


A screenshot from the Netflix anime Thermae Romae Novae.
Thermae Romae Novae.
Image: Netflix
J
Twitter
Jay PetersSep 23
Twitch’s creators SVP is leaving the company.

Constance Knight, Twitch’s senior vice president of global creators, is leaving for a new opportunity, according to Bloomberg’s Cecilia D’Anastasio. Knight shared her departure with staff on the same day Twitch announced impending cuts to how much its biggest streamers will earn from subscriptions.


T
Twitter
Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.


A
External Link
If you’re using crash detection on the iPhone 14, invest in a really good phone mount.

Motorcycle owner Douglas Sonders has a cautionary tale in Jalopnik today about the iPhone 14’s new crash detection feature. He was riding his LiveWire One motorcycle down the West Side Highway at about 60 mph when he hit a bump, causing his iPhone 14 Pro Max to fly off its handlebar mount. Soon after, his girlfriend and parents received text messages that he had been in a horrible accident, causing several hours of panic. The phone even called the police, all because it fell off the handlebars. All thanks to crash detection.

Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous, and the last thing anyone needs is to think their loved one was in a horrible crash when they weren’t. This is obviously an edge case, but it makes me wonder what other sort of false positives we see as more phones adopt this technology.


A
External Link
Ford is running out of its own Blue Oval badges.

Running out of semiconductors is one thing, but running out of your own iconic nameplates is just downright brutal. The Wall Street Journal reports badge and nameplate shortages are impacting the automaker's popular F-series pickup lineup, delaying deliveries and causing general chaos.

Some executives are even proposing a 3D printing workaround, but they didn’t feel like the substitutes would clear the bar. All in all, it's been a dreadful summer of supply chain setbacks for Ford, leading the company to reorganize its org chart to bring some sort of relief.