Stressful environments have genetic implications for African American boys

study conducted at Princeton University has shown there is a link between the social environment and health. African American boys who grow up in disadvantaged communities are more likely to have shorter telomeres, a section of DNA that shrinks with age, compared to their advantaged peers. Telomeres protect the end of chromosomes from damage and have major implications for aging and stress.

Half of the boys in the sample were characterized to be from disadvantaged communities. The criterion for this characterization were low maternal education, low household income, unstable household structure, and harsh parenting.

Some key findings of the study are:

  • There is a relationship between genes and the social environment.
  • Growing up in a disadvantaged community was linked to shorter telomeres.
  • 19% shorter telomeres in boys who lived in disadvantaged communities compared to those in advantaged communities.

Adedotun Ogunbajo, Joint Center Graduate Scholar, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health