-- Robert Preidt
TUESDAY, Oct. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Growing up poor might take
a toll on a child's brain development, a new study suggests.
"What's new is that our research shows the effects of poverty on the developing brain, particularly in the [brain's] hippocampus, are strongly influenced by parenting and life stresses that the children experience," study author Dr. Joan Luby, of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said in a university news release.
Luby's team conducted MRI brain scans on 145 children, aged 6 to
12, who had been followed since preschool. Smaller-sized brains
were found in those who lived in poverty in their early years, they
This included a smaller hippocampus, a part of the brain that
plays an important role in memory. The effects of poverty on
hippocampus size were influenced by the quality of care received by
children, the researchers said, plus the effects of stressful life
events. Those stressors might include moving regularly, having
parents who fight or the death of a loved one, the researchers
According to Luby's group, the findings highlight the importance
of helping parents provide children with high-quality care.
Preschool programs that provide good supplementary care and a safe
haven for vulnerable young children may be part of that
"Parents can be less emotionally responsive for a whole host of reasons," Luby said. "They may work two jobs or regularly find themselves trying to scrounge together money for food. Perhaps they live in an unsafe environment. They may be facing many stresses, and some don't have the capacity to invest in supportive parenting as much as parents who don't have to live in the midst of those adverse circumstances."
Charles Nelson, of Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard
Medical School, wrote an editorial accompanying the new study. He
believes the findings show how hardship early in development can
affect a child's brain structure.
"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," Nelson concluded.
The study was published online Oct. 28 in the journal
The Nemours Foundation has more about children's
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