1. Health
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Health, Stress and Poverty

How The Stress of Poverty Impacts Children's Health

By

Updated November 09, 2007

It’s been known for years that there’s a link between stress and socioeconomic status -- those lower in socioeconomic status tend to face greater stressors. It’s also been known that stress affects health, and that those experiencing greater levels of perceived stress tend to have more stress symptoms and face more stress-related health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome. However, it’s recently been found that children who live in poverty suffer from greater health problems than adults -- and the more time spent in poverty, the worse the health outcomes.

Why Is This Happening?

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, found that the longer kids spent in poverty, the worse their bodies were at handling the stressors of their environment, increasing their risk for long-term health problems.

“We think that these mechanisms may be related to the fact that children who grow up in poverty have a steeper life trajectory of premature health problems than other children, regardless of their socioeconomic status in adulthood,” said Gary Evans, professor of human ecology at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, in a press release. “These muted responses of stress regulatory mechanisms, which are part of the cardiovascular system, not only compromise the ability of the adolescents' bodies to respond to such stressors as noise, poor housing and family turmoil but also indicate they are suffering from more stress-induced physiological strain on their organs and tissues than other young people,” said Evans.

What This Means

This study has ramifications for everyone in society, not just the impoverished. “People need to understand that not leveling the playing field when it comes to poverty costs everyone money,” Evans added. “It's very costly to society that low-income children end up getting sick prematurely and die younger than other people.”

In addition, these findings underscore the damage we can all experience from chronic stress and specific stressors, such as relationship turmoil, noise pollution, and financial woes. They also highlight the need for stress management for children -— a need that parents aren’t always aware of.

What You Can Do

Because these issues can affect all of us, be sure to check out the following resources:
  • Stress and Noise Pollution
    You may not be aware of the effects of noise pollution because after a while you get used to it. However, noise pollution can take a very real toll on your physical and emotional health—and that of your kids. Learn what you can do to mitigate the effects.

  • Relationship Toolkit
    As adults, we realize that conflict with our partner is upsetting, but we don’t always realize how adult relationship difficulties affect the kids. Here are some tips on handling conflict in a healthy way to decrease everyone’s stress.

  • Stress Management For Children
    Do kids really need stress management training? You bet! Here’s what you need to know in order to equip your kids with this important skill that they’ll need throughout their lives.

  • Stress Management For Parents
    Being a parent brings a lot of stress of its own, and can even put you at a greater risk of depression. Parents need to take care of themselves so that they’ll still have enough to give. Here are some important stress management tips for parents, including strategies you can use with your kids.

  • How To Help
    If you’re lucky enough to be in a position to help, check out one of my favorite sites -- ChangingThePresent.org. They’ll hook you up with hundreds of ways to help others.

    Sources:
    Evans GW, Kim P. Childhood Poverty and Health: Cumulative Risk Exposure and Stress Dysregulation. Psychological Science November 2007.
    Subramanian SV, Kawachi I. Whose Health is Affected by Income Inequality? Health Place June 2006.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.