The Neighborhood Stress and Physiology among Children Project


The Neighborhood Stress and Physiology among Children (NSPAC) project, funded by the National Institutes of Health R01 research grant (#1R01ES020447), examines the association between various biomarkers and cumulative risk and/or stress exposure characterized at the individual, household, school and neighborhood levels. NSPAC is a collaborative, interdisciplinary project with input from the fields of public health, child psychiatry, immunology, and epigenetics. NSPAC aims to further evaluate the quality of neighborhoods and neighborhood stress and how that affects children’s health in ways that may lead to health problems as an adult. It will also evaluate the validity of telomere length as a biomarker of Allostatic Load (AL), the mechanism in which stress gets “under the skin.”

This project is a follow up to a study conducted in 2010 where investigators partnered with local schools to gain insight on the associations between a variety of children’s health factors including obesity, oral health, food consumption, neighborhood stress and telomere length. Findings are already being published from this baseline study looking at various environmental factors and child health. Early Hits and Long-Term Consequences: Tracking the Lasting Impact of Prenatal Smoke Exposure on Telomere Length in Children was published online ahead of print in the American Journal of Public Health this month. It examined the impact of prenatal tobacco smoke exposure on telomere length in childhood. Neighborhood disorder and telomeres: Connecting children’s exposure to community level stress and cellular response, published in Social Science and Medicine explored the link between neighborhood social disorder and telomere length in children. Findings at baseline have spurred additional data collection at follow-up and numerous hypothesized pathways through which stress, at many levels may alter health trajectories of children.

Data was collected from January 2012 to August 2013, following up with the 2010 baseline cohort to establish a longitudinal community-based cohort of children aged 5 to 15 years from inner-city New Orleans neighborhoods. Approximately 120 children and their families participated in the project. NSPAC will allow us to better understand, develop, and expand translational strategies, including policies and programs, to address and monitor biological risk and its impact on health outcomes, and at an early point in the life course.

by Lauren Dunaway