There's no getting around it. The more money you have in your pocket, the more likely it is that you'll be high on the health totem pole. That extra cash lets you freely skip to the doctor or buy medicine or take a safer job, for example, or you might be able to opt for the $8 dollar salad instead of the $3 slice of fatty, salt-ridden pizza at the cafeteria. So it's no surprise that people with lower incomes are at a higher risk for disease, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
But now researchers say your body might be remembering or influenced by poverty in a very different way.
It might be visible right in your genes.
Researchers from Northwestern University looked at how socioeconomic status (SES) affects the genome. They found that being poor affects your levels of DNA methylation (DNAm). This is an important chemical factor that tells genes to switch on or off.
And the reach is huge--DNAm affects more than 1,500 genes at more than 2,500 sites.
That's an eye-popping 10 percent of the stuff in your double-helix.
The research is important first for its proof that the line between nature and nurture might not even really exist. What we experience can have a powerful effect on the structure and shape of our genome.
But from the leadership perspective, it means that people might not be able to just "bounce back" after experiencing real financial hardships. They might continue to struggle physically long after they're out of the briar.
And health appearances might be more deceiving, too.
Is that series of cold Jane goes through because of the changes to her immune system from not having money long before she got to you? Or is it because she's stressed out and not sleeping enough?
Figuring out exactly what's your fault and what's not gets really complicated.
And like it or not, we have biases against the sick. We might not think they're up for particular projects, for example, or we might not be as quick to invite them to events during or after work.
Which means they might never really have the same kinds of opportunities to get out of financial instability.
It can be one vicious cycle.
And remember. Your workers' kids--the next generation of team members and entrepreneurs--go through the poverty experience with their parents.
Fail to support economic equality through fair wages now and handling the health needs of tomorrow's workforce might become only more difficult (and expensive).
So don't see fair wages or other ways of keeping income up as merely helping according to what people already are or have on their plate. See it as a way of ensuring that you're not writing a bad genetic story for the future. It is preventative social responsibility.
You're an influence on who people are.
Not just on what they do.
But what's in their bodies, too.
Let's take care of each other.