Can Poverty Modify the Epigenome?

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NARRATOR: In societies around the globe, researchers have found a correlation between family wealth and well-being. The more affluent and high status the families, on average, the fewer adversities their children are exposed to, and the better their outcomes. While many factors contribute to this wealth-health gradient, the Wisconsin study raises the question of whether epigenetic changes might occur throughout the population on the same sliding scale that connects wealth, power and status to well-being.

NAR: The idea is unproven but provocative. Because if social and economic adversities can alter the epigenome along a continuum corresponding to social status, then addressing social conditions becomes not just a moral question, but a necessity for the success of our society.

NAR: Twenty-five percent of U.S. children, one out of every four, are born into poverty. They live with food and housing insecurity and with safety concerns. They are exposed not only to more environmental hazards, but more noise, more hardship, more violence, and more social stressors than their wealthier peers.

NAR: And in the middle class, so many families are increasingly pressed for time, for money, and for resources. Could the epigenomes of these children be modified by their social and economic conditions just as those of the Wisconsin children were? Are they too being biologically primed for more difficulties in life? And if they are, what can be done?