Socioeconomic disadvantage is a significant risk factor for numerous lifespan health problems, including respiratory and cardiovascular disease, psychiatric illness, diabetes, and cancer. Despite the public health significance of reducing the prevalence of these conditions, there is a major gap in the literature regarding factors that may offset the risks posed by low socioeconomic status (SES). The present projects examine the extent to which self-regulation skills (the ability to intentionally control one's thoughts, emotios, and behavior) statistically interact with low SES to predict (Study 1) or associate with (Study 2) biological markers predictive of later health outcomes. This possibility is supported by child development studies showing protective effects of high self-regulatory abilities for the social functioning of children living in poverty, and reported correlations between measures of self-control and adult health outcomes. These issues will be examined using data from two completed projects (PI: Miller). Study 1 prospectively followed 147 adolescent girls (ages 15-19) for 2.5 years, assessing SES and self-regulation skills at baseline, as well as immune and metabolic risk factors every 6 months for the follow-up duration. Study 2 cross-sectionally assessed current SES, childhood parental occupation, self-regulation, immune and metabolic biomarkers in a sample of 420 adults (ages 15-55). Health risk was measured by both studies through comprehensive assessments of inflammation at multiple levels (including RNA expression, ex vivo cytokine responses to bacterial stimuli, and markers of systemic inflammation such as circulating levels of C-reactive protein and Interleukin-6) and indices of metabolic risk (levels of glucose, insulin, triglycerides, cholesterol fractions, and glycosylated hemoglobin).
Aim 1 is to test if adolescent self-regulation skills moderate associations between low SES and subsequent immune and metabolic biomarker trajectories from 6-30 months post-baseline (Study 1).
Aim 2 examines linear associations of low SES, self-regulation, and their statistical interaction with inflammation and metabolic dysfunction in Study 2.
The third aim examines correlations between self-regulation and health practices in Study 2 (e.g., alcohol and tobacco use, medications, exercise, sleep hygiene) and explores whether results in Aim 2 hold true after controlling for health practices.
These aims are directly relevant for the mission of th sponsoring agency, as they provide knowledge about a potentially health-protective factor that could help reduce the burden of morbidity and premature mortality on the population. Importantly, this protective factor has been shown to be malleable in childhood interventions. This project is part of a training plan that will provide the applicant with exemplary research, didactic, and hands-on laboratory training in psychoimmunology under the mentorship of Dr. Gregory E. Miller at Northwestern University. This training will allow the applicant to pursue her long-term research goals of investigating the links between early life stress and health across the lifespan.
This project is of public health relevance because it is the first step in a program of research that is expected to reveal protective factors which could offset the widely documented links between socioeconomic disadvantage and detrimental health outcomes. Once this research is completed, it will allow us to identify characteristics of individuals whose health might be spared despite experiencing low socioeconomic status.