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San Antonio study will show the physical link between poverty and health problems

People who live in poverty can't afford groceries or rent. They don't have a stable job, health insurance or a safe neighborhood for their kids to play. For years, studies have shown the poor die younger than their wealthier counterparts. Robert Ferrer, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC), is launching a major study to find out why.

"Many people assume that premature illness among poor people is mostly a function of poor health behaviors, but research has shown that is not true," Dr. Ferrer said. "Coping with the adverse circumstance of poverty generates psychological stress, which translates into physiological stress through the brain's interaction with nerve and hormone pathways."

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has awarded Dr. Ferrer a prestigious Generalist Physician Faculty Scholars grant to establish the link between poverty, stress and poor health. The $297,430 award funds a four-year study in San Antonio.

"Our analysis will focus on identifying the pathway from the socioeconomic level through psychological stress to indicators of physiological wear and tear," Dr. Ferrer said. "We'll also look at whether coping strategies and some other personal factors can buffer the effects of psychological stress on physiology."

Dr. Ferrer will enroll 250 San Antonio residents for the study. He is one of 15 recipients selected for the RWJF award this year. He is the third UTHSC physician to receive the honor.

Contacts: Amanda Gallagher
Aileen Salinas