Violence and neglect changes DNA in children; new study says

College Park, Md - Violence hurts children.

Child development experts have know for years that growing up with constant violence or abuse, in their home life puts stress on children.

That stress affects a child's development.

But now there's evidence that violence goes right to a child's core, their DNA.

"Toxic stress, being exposed to domestic violence abuse sexual physical abuse or neglect, that kind of abuse really can't escape from and being exposed to it has dire consequences."

University of Maryland Child Development Lab Director Nathan Fox says this latest study by Duke University researchers' points to the effect of constant, violent stress on the tip of the DNA strand called Telomeres.

Exposure to violence shortens Telomeres, which makes the cells older.

For example a seven year old who deals with violence could have a cellular age of a 17 year old.

That means they could develop diseases of aging at an earlier age than their peers.

Although the research still needs study, Fox says this shows the need to help make life easier for children who could grow up with illnesses that will affect everything from family life to health care.

 "If in fact some of these children develop cardiovascular disease cancer a result of this early exposure to stress that's going to cost society a lot more if we spend the money early enough in terms of violence prevention. " Fox says.

Professor Fox says this could help shape health policy in the future focusing on vulnerable populations of children to help ease stress.

But he cautions that there is still more research that needs to be done here.

Namely, continuing to follow the children who were studied to see if reducing stress could reduce their risk as they get older.

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