Adolescents living in a poor neighborhood are at increased risk of getting infected with chlamydia in young adulthood, says new research. Chlamydial infection is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by bacteria in both men and women. Persisting chlamydia can cause scarring and infertility issues in women.
Researchers at Ohio State University analyzed data from a large national study that tracked youths over time. They observed that children who lived in poor neighborhoods during their teenage years had an almost 25 per cent greater risk of having chlamydial infection in their early 20s - even if they themselves weren't poor - than did teenagers living in wealthier settings. The study is published in a recent issue of the Journal of Urban Health.
AdvertisementThe observed negative impact of life in an impoverished neighborhood was found to be unaffected by other known STI risk factors, such as depression, having multiple sex partners or beginning sexual activity at a very young age. This meant that the increased risk was not because of an increased likelihood of sexual risk-taking behaviors or depression during adolescence.
Data were obtained from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) and included three separate interviews of 11,460 youths who participated in the national project. During the first interview, the average age of the children studied was 15.6 years; by the time of the third interview, these same participants were between 18 and 27 years old.
"There is a long-term effect of living in poverty on the risk for sexually transmitted infections in young adulthood, above and beyond behavioral issues," said Jodi Ford, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of nursing at Ohio State. "We have a lot of interventions trying to address sexual risk behaviors, but few target neighborhood poverty and disadvantage. And this work shows that living in a poor neighborhood can have a long-term effect on health."
The prevalence of chlamydia among the young adults surveyed was 4.6 percent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 2.86 million infections occur annually. Since most people do not have symptoms, they do not seek testing and hence most cases remain unreported.
"This study strengthens the evidence that to fully address the sexual health needs of this population, STI prevention efforts should also acknowledge the effects of neighborhood poverty," said Ford.