Stressing It

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Social scientists are still unraveling the connection between income and health. Why are poorer people generally sicker? Is it lack of access to healthcare of education? Could it be genetic?

Researchers have made a disturbing revelation: poverty creates a type of stress that can affect our biology..

Science writer Moises Velasquez-Manoff recently penned an op-ed in the New York Times on this subject. He joins Latino USA host Maria Hinojosa to talk about the relationship between poverty and stress.

Interview Highlights:

On the difference between stress and STRESS

“That’s the million-dollar question, but one of the main differences is whether you have some control over how you can react to the stressor. Let’s say your boss yells at you, there are ways you can deal with it, you can go take a run after work,  you can go complain about it with your family or friends, let off some steam. And all those things help you manage stress. And it seems that if you are poor you lack some of those ways of dealing with stress. Basically, in a sense, the whole world is yelling at you when you’re poor. We talk about this in terms of feeling, but what happens chronically is not just a feeling, actually, your stress hormones go up and your immune system changes in ways that change  the predisposition to heart disease, to various cancers, even to obesity and possibly dementia later in life. ”

On the long-term effects of poverty in children

“Scientists are finding they can still see the lingering mark of that early life stress decades later. They see it in how your genes express. Some people seem to be completely resilient, you can do whatever you want to them and they will still triumph, they will still rise. Other people are the opposite, they are very sensitive and a little bit of duress will destroy them. And some of appears to be genetic, but it’s the interaction of genes and environment that is important here.

On how toxic stress affects Latinos: 

“There is something called the Hispanic paradox. Where immigrants from Latin American countries seem to exempt from the rule of poverty correlating to poor health outcomes. But their children who are born in the United Sates follow the rule to the tee. Scientists have noted this for a few decades now and it’s been very puzzling, but also possibly revealing. One of the theories is…you still have some of the old coping mechanisms from the old country that help you cope with the negative consequences of being low-ranking and in some ways powerless in this country. In some ways living in an ethnic enclave, in el barrio, is healthy.”

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