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Poverty, Health Status Linked at Diggs Seminar

NIEHS director Dr. Kenneth Olden had to brave the remnants of Hurricane Danny in order to present the 3rd annual John Diggs Seminar on July 24. The title of his lecture was "Research Key to Understanding Links Between Poverty and Health Status."

He began by citing reports that demonstrated a clear correlation between poverty and increased morbidity and mortality from various diseases. For instance, among people ages 45-64, those with an annual income of less than $10,000 have a 7 times greater risk of getting emphysema than those with income greater than $35,000. It's also clear that, on average, poor people in the U.S. are exposed to more environmental contaminants than the affluent. The problem is that in almost all cases, there has been no rigorous demonstration of a connection between environmental contaminants and diseases that disproportionately affect the poor. The one exception is lead. It is apparent that the urban poor have higher levels of lead in their blood and bones than wealthier individuals. There is also a link between lead and nerve damage, birth defects and IQ deficits.

Olden said NIEHS-funded researchers have developed more efficient and less invasive methods for detecting lead in bones. They are also testing treatments to prevent the transfer of lead from mother to baby during pregnancy. NIEHS has also created consortia of research hospitals, called Environmental Justice Research Centers, in Kentucky, Louisiana and New York to study links between environmental contaminants and diseases prevalent in local populations. Such studies should lead to the reduction of human suffering and may also lead to reduced health care costs.

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