Early Childhood Family Stressors and Immune System Dysregulation in Adolescence

Kammi K. Schmeer , The Ohio State University
Jodi Ford, The Ohio State University
Christopher Browning, The Ohio State University

Exposure to stress is one way in which social disadvantages during childhood may alter biological and psychological systems with long-term consequences. Family social and economic conditions are critical for early childhood development and exposure to difficult family conditions may have lasting physiological effects. In this study, we assess how family social and economic hardships that occurred in early childhood (birth to age 5) are associated with immune system dysregulation in adolescence, as indicated by reactivation of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). We utilize a salivary biomarker of EBV reactivation in 674 adolescents 11-17 years old. Multivariate regression results indicated that experiences of moving into a new caregiver household and economic hardship during early childhood were associated with elevated risk for EBV reactivation in adolescence. The findings held even when accounting for adolescents’ current family conditions. The results suggest family instability and economic insecurity in early childhood may increase chronic stress exposure with lasting consequences for adolescents' immune systems.

See paper

 Presented in Session 247. Families and Adolescent Health