Family financial pressure in childhood and telomere length in early adolescence: A prospective study

Keith T. S. TUNG, Rosa Sze Man WONG, Hing Wai TSANG, Wilfred H. S. WONG, Winnie W. Y. TSO, Jason C. YAM, Terry Y. S. LUM, Godfrey C. F. CHAN, Ian C. K. WONG, Patrick IP

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review


Much research on children in high-risk environments has focused on the biological consequences of maltreatment, adversity, and trauma. Whether other early-life stress sources such as family financial hardship are implicated in the cellular mechanism of disease development remains unclear. This study investigated the long-term effect of childhood exposure to family financial pressure on telomere length. It involved two waves of data collection occurring when participants reached Grade 3 (W1) and 7 (W2), respectively. In W1, parents reported family demographics and perceived financial stressors and pressure. In W2, participants provided buccal swab samples for measurement of their telomere length. Data from 92 participants (Mage in W2 = 13.2 years; 56.5% male) were analyzed. The main type of stressors reported by parents who perceived high family financial pressure in W1 were child-level stressors including affordability of their medical and educational expenses. Participants exposed to high parent-perceived family financial pressure in W1 had shorter telomeres in W2 when compared to those exposed to low parent-perceived family financial pressure (β = −0.61, p = 0.042). Subgroup analyses revealed stronger associations in girls than boys. These findings reveal an important spillover effect between parental financial perceptions and stress and children’s health at the cellular level.

Original languageEnglish
Article number721
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


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