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At a cursory glance, it may not seem that body inflammation — a condition that can lead to chronic health issues such as obesity, depression, diabetes, and heart disease — has any connection to the cycle of poverty. But researchers from the University of Georgia may have found evidence that indicates otherwise — and a possible strategy for how to treat it.
The school's Strong African American Families Project (SAAFP), part of the Center for Family Research, is a seven-week project in which parents at low socioeconomic levels were given parenting assistance. The project conducted the first group class eight years ago, and researchers recently returned to visit the kids whose parents participated in the pilot program, all of whom are ages 19 or 20 now. The findings showed that all of the children whose mothers had done well in the program showed fewer signs of chronic body inflammation and, in turn, had better odds of getting out of poverty. Nurturing parents, researchers found, may indeed be able to help their children develop better resistance to various medical problems ranging from allergies to heart disease to some forms of cancer.
For many poor families, the day-to-day struggles of existing take precedence over long-term goals: After all, it's hard to think about a college fund if you're too busy trying to keep a roof over your family's heads or figuring out where your next meal is coming from. But chronic health conditions like the ones listed above can contribute to regular illnesses or periods of not being able to work as well as the financial burden of medical bills, thus making it hard to get out of poverty.
The question the SAAFP posed was whether or not a short course in parenting techniques, one that focuses on being more nurturing and spending more time listening can help to alleviate some of the short- and long-term issues of raising a child in poverty. And according to this study, the answer may be yes. The results were published in an academic paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) this month.
"Inflammation was lowest among youth who received more nurturant-involved parenting, and less harsh-inconsistent parenting, as a consequence of the intervention," the authors explained in the article summary. "These findings have theoretical implications for research on resilience to adversity and the early origins of disease."
So what can we take away from this study? The authors hope that their research can help other states implement similar parenting-assistance programs since 22 percent of children in the United States currently live in poverty. Their argument is that while these classes might cost money in the short term, the pluses will more than make up for it over time and "could pay long-term social, public health, and economic dividends," which includes saving money on health care. And a whole generation of young children could be the ones to benefit the most.