Our Social Nature and Health: Resistance to Viruses

Social inequity leads to increased public health threats

During flu season it’s good to remember that we’re social animals. Our social standing directly impacts our health; social inequity leads to increased public health threats.

The relationship between status and health showed up clearly in the Whitehall studies in the U.K. The first study tracked the health of men in the British civil service over a ten-year period. It found a strong, inverse relationship between rank in the hierarchy and death rates from coronary disease. Executives atop of the civil service enjoyed much better health than the menial workers at the bottom.

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Harvard research across 75 years shows our social nature

The Harvard Study of Adult Development is a very long longitudinal study. For 75 years, the study has gathered data on two cohorts: 268 men who were sophomores at Harvard in 1938, and 456 boys who lived in low-income neighborhoods in Boston at the same time. A main focus of the study is alcohol abuse and alcoholism, but with so much data over such a long period of time, plenty of other findings await. One major finding relates to what makes people happy in the long run.

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Childhood stress effects later generations: new epigenetic evidence

Stroop Report - Warsaw Ghetto Uprising 06b.jpg

New research published in a Scientific American article shows that descendants of Holocaust survivors have altered stress hormones. This parallels research mentioned in a previous blog post about how the effects of famine ripple through subsequent generations.

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Social intervention can impact genes

Queensland State Archives 1489 Illustrating activities of Mother and Child Welfare Service April 1950

In a previous post, I discussed how a Swedish study showed the affect of feast or famine on successive generations. A grandfather’s hard childhood can alter a grandchild’s genetic makeup, leaving the child susceptible to problems like obesity or depression.

I speculated that this phenomena was a biological rationale for public services: improving lives and communities now also improves lives and communities in the future. But is there similar research studies that show intervention helps?

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Our social nature impacts our genes for generations

Family Portrait

I’m not a scientist by training or profession, but I am fascinated by what science can tell us about our social nature. In the past few years, new discoveries and techniques in genetics and data mining have revealed new levels of our interdependence, levels that can impact our genetic inheritance in a single generation and also stretch across generations.

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