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Low-Income Teens With Supportive Role Models Have Better Health

Update Date: Dec 21, 2012 09:16 AM EST

A new study suggests that low-income teenagers who have supportive role models and engage in adaptive strategies have lower levels of a marker for cardiovascular risk when compared to low-income teens who do not have such resources. The background of the study established that low-income teens are more prone to chronic diseases, basically because of their pessimistic view of life and future.

The study was conducted by researchers at Northwestern University and the University of British Columbia.

"Low socioeconomic status is one of the strongest determinants of chronic disease in developed countries," notes Edith Chen, professor of psychology and faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, who led the study. "This study suggests that teaching low-income youths strategies to reframe stressful events more positively and view the future optimistically, known as shift-and-persist strategies, and encouraging them to connect with supportive role models may help reduce the physiological burden of growing up in poor neighborhoods."

For the study, the researchers observed 163 healthy Canadian teenaged between the ages of 13 and 16 from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

The adolescents were quizzed by the researchers about their role models, and the youngsters were also asked to complete a questionnaire with questions pertaining to their coping strategies and their thoughts about the future. The researchers also checked the blood of the participants too in order to assess inflammatory markers that predict cardiovascular risk.

The findings of the study revealed that adolescents from low-income families who had supportive role models, displayed lower levels of the inflammatory marker interleukin-6  in comparison to teens who didn't have such models in their lives. Also, teenagers from low-income families who engaged in shift-and-persist coping strategies displayed lower levels of the marker. This was not the case in teens from high-income families or in youths from low-income families who didn't have these resources.

"This suggests that supportive role models promote shift-and-persist strategies and have physiological benefits specifically in low-income youth," according to Chen.

The study was published in the journal Child Development.

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