According to a study published online in the Springer’s journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine, adolescents who experience social and financial stress are associated with increased risk for disease, such as higher blood pressure, body weight and cholesterol levels later on in life. Dr. Per E. Gustafsson from Umea University in Sweden and his team found out that social and financial stress in youths leads to physiological problems later in life, independently of how difficult their life is in the meantime.

Gustafsson and team evaluated 822 participants in Northern Sweden aged 16 years and followed their progress for 27 years. They examined the influence of social factors and material deprivation during teen- and adulthood to establish the physiological impacts arising from continuous efforts to maintain stability in response to these stress factors, also known as ‘allostatic’ load.

Researchers believe the allostatic load predicts various health problems, such as declines in physical and cognitive functioning as well as cardiovascular disease and mortality.

They examined various factors of social adversity, such as social isolation, parental illness and loss, exposure to threat or violence and material adversity, such as low income, parental unemployment, poor standard of living and financial strain.

When participants reached 43 years, they examined the allostatic load based on 12 biological factors that are associated with body fat deposition, cardiovascular regulation, glucose metabolism, inflammation and neuroendocrine regulation and discovered that early adversity resulted in increased risk for adverse life circumstances in later adulthood.

The researchers discovered that the most significant period of sensitivity for women was during their adolescent years, whilst for men it was during young adulthood.

They found that independent of overall socioeconomic disadvantage and of later adversity exposure during adulthood women in particular who experienced social adversity during adolescence, as well as men who were affected during adulthood suffered a greater allostatic load at age 43.

The researchers summarize:

“Our results support the hypothesis that physiological wear and tear visible in mid-adulthood is influenced by the accumulation of unfavorable social exposures over the life course, but also by social adversity measured around the transition into adulthood, independent of later adversity.”

Written by: Petra Rattue