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Pennington Biomedical Study Demonstrates That Children Who Live in High Poverty Have Higher Levels of Inflammation, A Definitive Marker for Heart Disease in Adults

Released: Tuesday, September 25, 2012

BATON ROUGE, LA - New research from the PenningtonBiomedicalResearchCenter demonstrates that children who live in high poverty have higher levels of inflammation, a definitive marker for heart disease in adults.

In a new study published today in PLOS ONE , researchers at Pennington Biomedical have determined that children living in high poverty or high crime neighborhoods have elevated levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation and, in adults a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

"This research suggests that children's cardiovascular health may also suffer from chronic stress associated with living in certain neighborhoods," said Stephanie Broyles, Ph.D., lead author of the children's research study. "Until now, research has mainly focused on pathways to obesity and disease involving neighborhoods with low access to healthy food or opportunities to be physically active."

"This new finding provides more evidence that where we live can impact our health status," says Dr. Broyles. "It shows that we need to think more broadly about environmental factors that elevated cardiovascular risk. For example, we have laws that protect people from environmental exposure to second hand smoke because of disease risk. As we think about ways to lower disease risk and health care costs, we need to continue to pay attention to the ways that our neighborhoods shape disease risk," added Broyles.

The study included 385 children ages 5 to 18 years from 255 households within 101 census tracts in Louisiana. Analyses compared children's inflammation levels greater than 3 mg/L to those with levels of 3 and less mg/L across neighborhood environments. Results showed 18.6% of children living in higher levels of poverty or crime had elevated CRP levels, in contrast to 7.9% of children living in neighborhoods with lower levels of poverty and crime. In addition, children from neighborhoods with the highest levels of crime or poverty had 2.7 times the odds of having elevated CRP levels when compared to children from other neighborhoods, independent of other factors such as weight, educational attainment or behavioral differences.

According to the research team, there are no guidelines for screening children for elevated C-reactive protein. Yet, prevention and early disease screening may have the greatest impact when targeting children living in neighborhoods with high levels of poverty or crime. "Most work in this area has been done in adults and we wanted to study if there was evidence for neighborhood's promoting stress in children. C-reactive protein isn't a direct measure of stress, but it is part of our body's cascade of responses to chronic stress and an important marker for disease risk in adults that tracks from childhood to adulthood," added Dr. Broyles.

PenningtonBiomedicalResearchCenter study authors are Stephanie T. Broyles, Ph.D., Amanda E. Straiano, Ph.D., Kathryn T. Drazba, M.P.H., Alok K. Gupta, M.D., Melinda Sothern, Ph.D., and Peter T. Katzmarzyk, Ph.D. Sothern, an adjunct professor at Pennington Biomedical, is also a faculty member at the LSUHealthSciencesCenter's School of Public Health.

"Elevated C-Reactive Protein in Children from Risky Neighborhoods: Evidence for a Stress Pathway Linking Neighborhoods and Inflammation in Children" can be reviewed online at http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0045419.

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The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the causes of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. Itis a campus of the Louisiana State University System and conducts basic, clinical and population research. The research enterprise at the Center includes approximately 80 faculty and more than 25 post-doctoral fellows who comprise a network of 50 laboratories supported by lab technicians, nurses, dieticians, and support personnel, and 19 highly specialized core service facilities.  The Center's more than 500 employees perform research activities in state-of-the-art facilities on the 234-acre campus located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.