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Resilience to adversity and the early origins of disease

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 October 2016

Gene H. Brody*
University of Georgia
Tianyi Yu
University of Georgia
Steven R. H. Beach
University of Georgia
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Gene H. Brody, Institute for Family Research, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602-4527; E-mail:


For the past quarter century, scientists at the Center for Family Research at the University of Georgia have conducted research designed to promote understanding of normative developmental trajectories among low socioeconomic status African American children, youths, and young adults. In this paper, we describe a recent expansion of this research program using longitudinal, epidemiological studies and randomized prevention trials to test hypotheses about the origins of disease among rural African American youths. The contributions of economic hardship, downward mobility, neighborhood poverty, and racial discrimination to allostatic load and epigenetic aging are illustrated. The health benefits of supportive family relationships in protecting youths from these challenges are also illustrated. A cautionary set of studies is presented showing that some psychosocially resilient youths demonstrate high allostatic loads and accelerated epigenetic aging, suggesting that, for some, “resilience is just skin deep.” Finally, we end on an optimistic note by demonstrating that family-centered prevention programs can have health benefits by reducing inflammation, helping to preserve telomere length, and inhibiting epigenetic aging.

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