Lead author Dr. Thomas Fuller-Rowell of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar, said although the link between poverty and poor health has been long known, this study considered the impact of class discrimination.
The study involved 252 17-year-olds from upstate New York enrolled in a long-running Cornell University study on rural poverty.
All were white but the study did not look at the effect of race.
"Experiences of discrimination are often subtle rather than blatant, and the exact reason for unfair treatment is often not clear to the victim," Fuller-Rowell said in a statement. "For these reasons, rather than asking the study participants if they had experienced discrimination specifically based on their class background, the study measured general perceptions of discrimination. For example, they were asked: 'How often do people treat you differently because of your background?'"
The researchers took overnight urine samples and other tests to assess stress on the body, including measures of blood pressure and stress-related hormones such as epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol.
The study, published in Psychological Science, found teenagers who grew up in poverty reported higher levels of discrimination, and the discrimination, in turn, predicted the body's stress load.
The poorer the teens, the more they experienced discrimination, and the worse their health measures were.