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Early origins of health disparities: Burden of infection, health, and socioeconomic status in US children

Archived Abstract of Former PSC Researcher

Dowd, J.B., Anna Zajacova, and A. Aiello. 2009. "Early origins of health disparities: Burden of infection, health, and socioeconomic status in US children." Social Science and Medicine, 68(4): 699-707.

Recent work in biodemography has suggested that lifetime exposure to infection and inflammation may be an important determinant of later-life morbidity and mortality. Early exposure to infections during critical periods can predispose individuals to chronic disease, in part through the reallocation of energy away from development needed for immune and inflammatory responses. Furthermore, markers of inflammation are known to vary by socioeconomic status in adults and may contribute to overall socioeconomic health inequalities, but little is known about how the sources of this inflammation differ over the life course. This paper uses novel biomarker data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) to test the association of the burden of common chronic infections (Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), cytomegalovirus (CMV), herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1), hepatitis A and hepatitis B) with height-for-age and asthma/chronic respiratory conditions in U.S. children ages 6 and older, and the association of these chronic infections to children's socioeconomic status. A higher burden of infection is found to be associated with lower height-for-age as well as an increased likelihood of asthma net of race/ethnicity, family income, and parental education. Children with lower family income, lower parental education, and non-white race/ethnicity have a higher likelihood of infection with several individual pathogens as well as the overall burden of infection. Differential exposure and/or susceptibility to infections may be one mechanism through which early social factors get embodied and shape later-life health outcomes. (C) 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

DOI:10.1016/j.socscimed.2008.12.010 (Full Text)

PMCID: PMC2670067. (Pub Med Central)

Country of focus: United States of America.

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