Study links insulin resistance and advanced cellular aging to child poverty

Summary: One study found that childhood poverty was associated with insulin resistance in adults in their late 20s. The aging of immune cells was one mechanism by which poverty was linked to insulin resistance.

Source: University of Illinois

Black teens who lived in poverty and were less optimistic about the future showed accelerated aging of their immune cells and were more likely to have high insulin resistance between the ages of 25 and 29, the researchers found.

Allen W. Barton, professor of human development and family studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is the first author of the study, which followed the health of 342 African Americans for 20 years, from teens to mid-twenties. .

The researchers’ goal was to explore the links between individuals’ childhood social environment and insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes in which cells do not respond well to insulin or do not use not blood glucose as an energy source.

Participants lived in rural Georgia, an area with one of the highest poverty rates and shortest life expectancies in the United States.

“Once we found compelling evidence that family poverty during childhood was associated with participants’ insulin resistance in their late twenties, we looked at immune cell aging as a possible mediator, some thing that conveys the effect,” Barton said. “And we found support for that. The aging of immune cells was one pathway, one mechanism by which poverty was associated with insulin resistance.

Published in the journal Child Development, the findings support the hypothesis that chronic diseases such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome, which occur at significantly higher rates in black adults and low-income populations, may partially stem from experiences much earlier in life – even in childhood – and that such disadvantages can influence people’s cognition and physiology.

“Understanding these health disparities associated with race and socioeconomic status really requires a development perspective, but prospective research on these populations is sparse,” Barton said.

“In addition to focusing on contemporary stressors — such as their socioeconomic status as adults, where they currently live, and their access to health care — prospective studies like this one that follow participants to adulthood are important for exploring developmental pathways that originate in childhood to see associations between individuals’ early social environment and their later health outcomes in adulthood,” he said. .

Recent research cited in this study also indicates that type 2 diabetes and other diseases affect certain populations – particularly black people – at much younger ages.

The data used in the new study was drawn from the Strong African American Families Healthy Adult Project, also called SHAPE, which enrolled 667 black fifth-grade students and their caregivers. SHAPE began collecting data in 2001.

The young adults in the sample provided at least one blood sample at age 20 and again between ages 25 and 29. From these samples, the researchers assessed the biological age of the participants using DNA methylation and compared this age with their chronological age. The participants’ blood samples were also used to quantify their levels of insulin resistance at ages 25, 27 and 29.

At six points in time, beginning when the children were 11 and ending at 18, caregivers completed questionnaires on their family’s need-to-income ratios, which were used to calculate their poverty status and number of children. years they have lived below the federal poverty line. level.

Three times between the ages of 16 and 18, young people completed the Perceived Life Chances Scale, a 10-point inventory that asked them if they thought they would go to college or get a well-paying job, and what was the probability.

In their initial analyses, the researchers found that living in poverty between the ages of 11 and 18 was associated with insulin resistance between the ages of 25 and 29. The longer participants lived in poverty during adolescence, the higher their risk for insulin resistance and diabetes in adulthood, the researchers found.

This risk was calculated using a homeostatic model of insulin resistance, or HOMA score. Each additional year of poverty was associated with a higher HOMA score of more than one point.

When the children reached the age of 19-20, the researchers looked at DNA methylation in a subset of the participants. DNA methylation is a natural process associated with aging that can affect gene function.

Participants lived in rural Georgia, an area with one of the highest poverty rates and shortest life expectancies in the United States. The image is in the public domain.

When the researchers also looked at whether adolescents believed they could achieve their goals as adults, they found that more years spent living in poverty were associated with lower perceived life chances. The team found associations between young people’s perceived life chances and premature aging of immune cells at age 20, which was then linked to insulin resistance, Barton said.

“We don’t know what happened to them until they were 11, so maybe there are things put in place that we can’t assess yet,” Barton said of the limitations of the game. ‘study.

Researchers continue to follow individuals in the sample and explore the role of resilience in participants’ health outcomes as they age, he said.

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“This is a terrific set of data and can begin to answer some important public health questions, shed some light on some of these racial disparities, and help find ways to mitigate them,” Barton said.

Study co-authors include researcher Tianyi Yu and Gene H. Brody, founder and co-director of the Center for Family Research, both at the University of Georgia; psychology professors Edith Chen and Gregory E. Miller, who co-direct the Foundations of Health Research Center at Northwestern University; and Qiujie Gong, a predoctoral fellow at U. of I.

About this poverty and health research news story

Author: Sharita Forest
Source: University of Illinois
Contact: Sharita Forrest – University of Illinois
Image: Image is in public domain

Original research: Free access.
Child Poverty, Aging Immune Cells, and Insulin Resistance in African Americans: A Prospective Study” by Allen W. Barton et al. child development


Childhood poverty, aging immune cells, and insulin resistance in African Americans: a prospective study

The present study examined developmental pathways that may contribute to chronic disease among rural African Americans.

With a sample of 342 young African Americans (59% female) from the Southeastern United States followed for nearly two decades (2001-2019), we examined the prospective association between family poverty during adolescence (11 – 18 years old) and insulin resistance (IR) in young adults (25-29 years old) as well as the underlying biological and psychosocial mechanisms.

The results indicated that family poverty during adolescence predicted higher levels of IR in young adults, with accelerated aging of immune cells at age 20 partially mediating this association. Serial mediation models confirmed the hypothesized pathway linking family poverty, perceived life chances, cellular aging and IR.

The findings provide empirical support for theorized developmental precursors of chronic disease.

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