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Research Finds Growing Up Poor can Impact Adult Brain Function

PHOTO: New research found childhood poverty impacted how much the two regions of the prefrontal cortex (as shown in orange circles) were engaged during emotion regulation. Photo: brain. Courtesy UIC.
PHOTO: New research found childhood poverty impacted how much the two regions of the prefrontal cortex (as shown in orange circles) were engaged during emotion regulation. Photo: brain. Courtesy UIC.
November 4, 2013

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - New research has found that the stress of growing up poor can have a lasting impact that foretells a greater risk of both physical and psychological problems as an adult. Dr. K. Luan Phan, professor of psychiatry at University of Illinois Chicago College of Medicine, is the senior author of the study. In it, he said, children at age 9 who had lower family incomes showed less activity in areas of the prefrontal cortex, an area in the brain thought to regulate negative emotion. The result, he said, can manifest in adulthood as problems with stress, anxiety, depression, impulsive aggression and substance abuse.

"The inability to regulate negative affect also could carry over to having trouble with interpersonal relationships, inability to cope with stress while on the job, also other stress-related medical conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure," Phan said.

Children of lower income face many chronic stressors, such as substandard housing, crowding, noise, family turmoil, violence or family separation that can have an impact on brain function during emotional regulation, Phan explained.

The research suggests that there needs to be more attention given to low-income children, perhaps through screenings at school or at their pediatrician, to look for indicators of stress, he added.

"We should be targeting kids growing up in poverty and in families with low incomes. This is a particularly vulnerable population, and they are not just vulnerable at the time as a child, but also as an adult," Phan said.

The study was conducted by researchers at Illinois, Cornell University, University of Michigan and University of Denver and published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The study is available at http://news.uic.edu.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV