Many children are exposed to violence and a greater understanding of
the effect on children's health is critical because social
environmental conditions likely contribute to health disparities.
Socioeconomically disadvantaged communities have a higher exposure to
Neighborhood stressors - the density of liquor or convenience stores,
reports of domestic violence and rate of violent crime - were
associated with signs of biological stress in a small study of black
children in neighborhoods in the greater New Orleans area.
‘Neighborhood stressors - the density of liquor or convenience stores, reports of domestic violence and rate of violent crime - were associated with signs of biological stress in kids.’
Katherine P. Theall of the Tulane University School of
Public Health and Tropical Medicine, New Orleans, looked at the
association of the three neighborhood-level stressors with biological
outcomes reflected by telomere length (parts of chromosomes that can
help measure stress on the body because shortening relates to cell
aging) and cortisol (a stress hormone) functioning.
The study included 85 children between the ages of five to 16 (50 of
them were girls) from 52 neighborhoods around New Orleans from 2012
through half of 2013. Saliva samples were used determine average
relative telomere length and cortisol reactivity. Neighborhood stressors
were measured within radiuses of the children's homes.
The authors report each neighborhood stressor was associated with
biological stress as measured by shortened telomere length and cortisol
Limitations of the study include its lack of applicability to other
demographic groups. The study also cannot establish causality.
"Neighborhoods are important targets for interventions to reduce the
effect of exposure to violence in the lives of children. These findings
provide the first evidence that objective exposures to
neighborhood-level violence influence both physiological and cellular
markers of stress, even in children," the study concludes.