PITTSBURGH, June 18 (UPI) -- There already was evidence that living in bad neighborhoods has a negative effect on both physical and mental health, and now a new study shows that the residents of places with high crime, noise and vandalism are biologically more than a decade older than people in better neighborhoods of the same chronological age.
The stresses of living in a neighborhood perceived to be bad may actually contribute to cells in the body aging faster than those in people who live in neighborhoods not characterized by disorder, crime and noise.
"The differences in telomere length between the two groups were comparable to 12 years in chronological age," Mijung Park, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing, said in a press release. "It's possible that their cells are chronically activated in response to psychological and physiological stresses created by disadvantaged socioeconomic, political and emotional circumstances."
Researchers examined telomere length in the white blood cells of 2,902 Dutch men and women who participated in the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety, determining the quality of their neighborhoods based on measures of crime, disorder, noise and vandalism, as well as fears of those things happening.
Telomeres are stretches of DNA at the end of chromosomes similar to the ends of shoelaces, protecting the ends from becoming frayed. Each time a cell divides, telomeres get trimmed because they are not fully copied in the division process. Cells are thought to age as their telomeres get too short for replication.
Compared to participants living in good neighborhoods, the telomere length of people in moderate neighborhoods was an average of 69 base pair shorter, while the telomere length of those in bad neighborhoods was an average of 174 base pair shorter.
Researchers say the results show biological aging processes may be affected by socioeconomic conditions.
The study is published in PLOS ONE.