Children raised in low resource contexts experience poorer physical health outcomes. By age 25, children from the lowest socioeconomic (SES) groups will have an average life expectancy of six fewer years compared to those in the highest SES contexts. A basic tenet of biobehavioral models is that stress increases risk for adverse health outcomes because it suppresses the immune system, leaving a person more vulnerable to illness and disease progression. Although this has been supported in animal and adult research, how it translates to children is not yet clear; thus, Marcia Winter, Ph. D., and health psychology program colleague Robin Everhart, Ph. D., designed the Families of Richmond, VA Extension (FoR-VA-x) study to examine links between children’s stress exposure and immune profiles. FoR-VA-X draws participants from the larger FoR-VA study that aims to better understand individual differences in how children navigate challenges, both individually and with the help of their families, and how that might relate to their socio-emotional and physical health outcomes. Ultimately, this research is designed to inform prevention, intervention and policy initiatives to promote child health and development and reduce the health disparities that are plaguing low-income children such as those here in urban Richmond.
Winter and Everhart received a VCU Presidential Research Quest Fund award to conduct this research. The goal of this VCU fund, which is administered through the VCU Office of Research and Innovation, is to afford all faculty internal funding opportunities to support new, emerging or continuing research. In part, the fund addresses three initiatives in the Virginia Commonwealth University’s ‘Quest for Distinction‘ Strategic Plan: 1) increasing and diversifying the university’s sponsored research; 2) increasing productivity in high impact and translational research; and, 3) increasing interdisciplinary research.