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Jul 22, 2014 06:31 AM EDT

Strong Family Bonds Reduce Inflammation in Children of low-income Families, Study

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Strengthening families can help reduce inflammation - a chronic overactivation of parts of the immune system essential for long-term health - in children from low socioeconomic backgrounds, according to a Northwestern University.

Children belonging to low-income families often suffer from inflammation and poorer health (lower birth weights at infancy, higher rates of age-related cardiovascular disease and cancer among others) during all stages of their life when compared to their privileged peers.

"Many health problems in both childhood and adulthood involve excessive inflammation," said Gregory E. Miller, professor of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, in a statement. "The process has a role in diabetes, heart disease, allergies and some cancers."

For the study, researchers surveyed approximately 170 families from low-income backgrounds in small, rural areas in Georgia. They particularly focused on mothers and their 11-year-old children.

The families underwent a seven-week training program that involved enhancing parenting skills, fostering smooth communication between parents and children and helping the children develop strategies to cope up with stress, racism and peer pressure around sex, drugs and alcohol.

The researchers collected blood samples and measured inflammation levels when the children turned 19 years old. They found that children showed significantly less inflammation when compared to those in the control group.

"We also found that the training was most successful in reducing inflammation in families who came from the most disadvantaged neighborhoods," Miller said. "The study is also novel in its focus on families who are at high risk for health problems relative to other Americans."

The study titled, "Mitigating the Effects of Childhood Disadvantage: A Family-Oriented Psychosocial Intervention Reduces Inflammation in Low-SES African American Youth" will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). 

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