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Health Check: Linking poverty to obesity

A new study from Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket says the link between being poor and obesity could be in the genes. (WJAR)

A new study from Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket says the link between being poor and obesity could be in the genes.

Previous research has connected the dots between poverty as a child with obesity later on in life. But why?

New research at Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket suggests this link is due to something called epigenetics.

This all piggybacks on research that began in the 1960s, originally following newborns trying to find out what caused cerebral palsy.

"Basically, the doctors at both Harvard and Brown have followed this group called the New England Family Study for the past 40 years or so to see what the outcomes are from childhood in terms of both mental health in adulthood, but also cardiovascular disease. This particular study focuses on obesity," said Dr. Charles Eaton of Memorial Hospital, and one of the lead researchers in this new study.

In all, there were 147 study participants. They had fat biopsies and their body fat taken at Memorial Hospital.

"We know that children raised in poverty are more likely to become obese as adults and they're probably under stress. There's this theory that the cortisol levels in childhood affect the body's ability to adapt, so it could be that under stressful environments, people like comfort foods," said Eaton.

When all was said and done, the research pointed to specific genes.

"And what we found basically was 100 genes. We found it was stronger in women than men. There are about 100 genes in women that predict obesity and out of those, there are about three that are mediated through that socioeconomic status," said Eaton.

Eaton said the research will lead to more research. The hope? To create interventions to alter the eventual outcomes.

The research is published in the Journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

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