The less educated the mother, the shorter the newborn’s telomeres.

MedXpress details the chromosome damage that seems to be caused by economic inequality; in other words, the more educated you are, the more protected your baby is against chromosome damage:

…[R]educed telomere length is a hallmark of cellular aging that, in adults, is associated with shorter lifespan and increased risk for conditions such as diabetes, obesity and cancer.
“As far as we know, this is the first study to suggest that, right from the gate, a mother’s education may impact what’s going on in her newborn at the cellular level,” said Janet Wojcicki, PhD, MPH, associate professor of pediatrics at UCSF and lead author on the study, which was published online Dec. 3 in the Journal of Perinatology. “It suggests that kids whose mothers aren’t afforded a real education may already be disadvantaged in their health at birth.”

Likened to the plastic tips of shoelaces, telomeres are repeating units of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that act as buffers against the loss of protein-coding DNA during cell division. While telomere shortening happens naturally with aging, mounting research indicates that the process is accelerated by psychological and biological stress.

…[O]ne report published earlier this year by researchers at the University of Sydney found that shorter telomeres in very young children predicted increased arterial thickness, an early sign of vascular disease, by age eight.

In the newly published portion of their ongoing longitudinal study, the team recruited expectant Latina mothers from Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital’s prenatal clinics between 2012 and 2013, and took cord blood samples from 54 infants at birth. The researchers analyzed telomere length in the newborns’ immune cells and searched for correlations with a host of health and sociodemographic factors affecting children and their parents, including maternal education level, ethnicity and prenatal body mass index (BMI), maternal and paternal age, and the child’s sex, gestational age, birth weight and head circumference.

Just two factors correlated with cord blood telomere length: both male babies and infants whose mothers had not graduated from high school had telomeres about 5 to 6 percent shorter than females and infants whose mothers had diplomas, respectively.

“We already know that a woman’s education level is critically important for her child’s health for myriad biological, behavioral and social reasons,” Epel said. “Now we are getting a glimpse of a potential mechanism for how socioeconomic disparities may be passed on from generation to generation.”

The finding that male infants may have shorter telomeres than do females is also intriguing, said study co-author Rebecca Olveda, a UCSF medical student who joined the research team as part of a summer research program. “It raises the question of whether well-known differences between men and women in health and mortality risk in adulthood are influenced by biological differences already present on the first day of life.”

[via Phineas Gage’s Skull]