Poor Americans' DNA is declining as a result of poverty, new research finds

Results were based on small sample size in Detroit

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Poor Americans’ DNA is declining in quality as a result of their difficult backgrounds, according to new research.

Researchers examined 249 black, white and Mexican adults from poor and middle class backgrounds in Detroit and found that those living in “distressed urban areas” were more likely to “suffer early aging-related disease and excess mortality”.

The paper, published today in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, found that individuals from poorer backgrounds were more likely to have shortened telomeres than their better off peers.

Telomeres, the protective caps on the ends of DNA chromosomes, have been found to reliably predict human life expectancy.

The study, which drew blood and measured telomere length, found that poor whites were likely to have shorter telomeres than either black or Mexican individuals in the study.

Poor white and non-white individuals were likely to have similarly shortened telomeres – but poor Mexicans were likely to have longer telomeres than “nonpoor Mexicans”.

Nobel prize winning scientist Dr Arline Geronimus, one of the study’s lead authors, suggested that poor first-generation Mexicans immigrants often lived within their own communities and did not interact with Americans as much as their wealthier counterparts.

"If they're immigrants, then they come with a different cultural background and upbringing that didn't stress that as Mexicans they were somehow 'other' or 'lesser' than other Americans," Dr Geronimus told the Huffington Post.

She added: “They come with a set of support systems and with a cultural orientation that doesn't undermine their sense of self-worth.”

The study also found that poor whites were more adversely affected – in some respects – than poor blacks. A comparison of the telomeres of poor whites to moderate income whites, and poor blacks to moderate income blacks, revealed a far greater disparity.

Old tires rest near the abandoned Packard Automotive Plant in Detroit

Again, Dr Geronimus suggested that it was the communities that made the difference. Poor whites were less likely to have a support network to partially alleviate their economic poverty, unlike black – or Mexican – communities which had formed neighbourhood-wide coping methods after years of mistreatment.

"I think a lot of people just don’t understand how bad it is for some Americans,” she said.

Dr Geronimus added: “If anything, some of our evidence suggests that whether it’s the poor Mexican immigrant or the African-Americans who have been discriminated against and dealt with hardship for generation after generation, they’ve developed systems to cope somewhat that perhaps white Detroiters haven’t.”

The results of the research should be couched in the specific problems associated with Detroit, which in recent years has seen massive changes – mostly negative – as a result of the economy.

Just over 80 per cent of the city’s population is black with 10 per cent white, of which just under two per cent identifies as Hispanic white.