Early Childhood Poverty Harms Brain Development

Child sits on the ground looking at camera

When it comes to a child’s brain development being affected by poverty, we are not talking about simply not doing their homework or not staying quite up to par with their classmates in school. We are talking about a much more serious issue in which the actual makeup of the brain is altered.

According to new research from the Washington University School of Medicine, living in poverty at a young age seems to be associated with a change in volume in areas of the brain that control emotion processing and memory.

The researchers analyzed 145 brain scans of children who were part of a study released in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. The research concluded that those children exposed to poverty at an early age had smaller volumes of white and cortical gray matter, the hippocampal, and the amygdala. The children were from the ages of 6 to 12 and they participated in the study since preschool.

In layman’s terms, the white and gray matter are nerve tissues responsible for sending communications, sensory perception, memory, emotions and speech. The hippocampus deals with conversion of short-term memory to long-term memory and spatial navigation. Last, but not least, the amygdala processes memories and emotions. This leads children to having poor cognitive outcomes, poor school performance, and they are at a higher risk for antisocial behaviors and mental disorders.

In an editorial about the study, Charles Nelson, from the Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, agrees that intervention strategies should start as early as birth. He also writes, “exposure to early life adversity should be considered no less toxic than exposure to lead, alcohol, or cocaine, and, as such, it merits similar attention from public health authorities.”

Supportive caregiving is a solution for those unable to escape poverty. Various studies show that it could help a child avoid exposure to more stressful life events, which in turn affects the development of the hippocampus.

To learn more about our own childhood development program Help Me Grow, ask for more information by phone or visit www.switchboardmiami.org. If you or someone you know is living in poverty call Switchboard at 305-358-HELP or 2-1-1. We answer over 15 specialized lines 24/7 and a team of trained counselors are ready to assist you – it is all free and confidential.



U.S. News & World Report article: http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/10/28/early-childhood-poverty-damages-brain-development-study-finds