Poverty’s most insidious damage is to a child’s brain

Aug 4, 2015

Photo Courtesy of Phils Photography / Fotolia

By Washington University in St. Louis

An alarming 22 percent of U.S. children live in poverty, which can have long-lasting negative consequences on brain development, emotional health and academic achievement. A new study, published July 20 in JAMA Pediatrics, provides even more compelling evidence that growing up in poverty has detrimental effects on the brain.

In an accompanying editorial, child psychiatrist Joan L. Luby, MD, at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, writes that “early childhood interventions to support a nurturing environment for these children must now become our top public health priority for the good of all.”

In her own research in young children living in poverty, Luby and her colleagues have identified changes in the brain’s architecture that can lead to lifelong problems with depression, learning difficulties and limitations in the ability to cope with stress.

However, her work also shows that parents who are nurturing can offset some of the negative effects on brain anatomy seen in poor children. The findings suggest that teaching nurturing skills to parents — particularly those who live below the poverty line — may provide a lifetime of benefit for children.

“Our research has shown that the effects of poverty on the developing brain, particularly in the hippocampus, are strongly influenced by parenting and life stresses experienced by the children,” said Luby, the Samuel and Mae S. Ludwig Professor of Child Psychiatry and director of Washington University’s Early Emotional Development Program.


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9 comments on “Poverty’s most insidious damage is to a child’s brain

  • I concur Stafford. A child is innocent, innocent, innocent… I want to scoop them up into my lap and make them feel warm and safe. I want them to grow up in the innocence of youth so they can gain some inner strength, before they are exposed to the stupidity and brutality of adulthood.



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  • An excellent article that prompts us to think about the dreadful impact of poverty on children’s neurological development where intergenerational abuse and dysfunction sustain the cycle.



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  • 5
    Cairsley says:

    Members of this website are no doubt aware why 22% of children in the world’s richest and most powerful country live in poverty, so I will restrain my urge to rant. A greedy, self-serving, arrogant, unconscionable plutocracy comes to mind, but I really must restrain myself . . .



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  • This is exactly why a friend (and others, I’m sure) is dead set against anything space related.

    That money would feed and clothe all the children in Appalachia – totally agree it is a priority; yet, hypothetically speaking, could we not have both with careful budgeting?



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  • bonnie
    Aug 5, 2015 at 11:50 am

    This is exactly why a friend (and others, I’m sure) is dead set against anything space related.

    This is just ignorance of technology and the financing of warning systems and disaster management.

    Space planners regularly come up against some political would be do-gooders, who would send the wrong relief products, to the wrong areas, months too late, because they have spent nothing on planning, warning systems, or transport mechanisms, and have no ideas apart from a need to do something simplistic, to feel good about themselves.

    http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Engineering_Technology/Space_for_health/Disaster_Relief_and_Emergency_Management
    The key to successful response to emergencies is quick and effective early response. This is only possible if the right information is available at the right place at the right time. The European Space Agency, together with other organisations, is contributing its space infrastructure towards enabling more effective response to emergencies, whether they are large natural disasters or small remote events. Speedy communications of information regarding the conditions and needs at the point of disaster, combined with timely information on the available resources and their whereabouts can win valuable time in reacting to an emergency. And winning valuable time is key to saving of lives.

    As usual, the whingers would divert money away from the science which is doing the job!



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  • 8
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    As usual, the whingers would divert money away from the science which is doing the job!

    Yes. The argument that the space program is stealing funds for “more important things like caring for the poor, the ill and needy” is the biggest and most smelly red herring ever.

    The worst waste of public funds by far is the obscene amount of money poured in the military and war: useless equipment like the F-35 fighter jet program which cost $1.5 trillion so far and still doesn’t work. The wars in Irak and Afghanistan which cost upwards of 3 trillion( !!!)…. and that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg in the wonderful world of wasteful government spending.

    So the few billion dollars allocated to the space program and scientific research is litterally peanuts compared to that. A mere 10% of the F-35 budget would be enough to provide health care and pay for education for the entire population of the US for an entire year and then some…

    The New Horizons program cost $700 million over 15 years, less than 0.0005% of the budget of the F-35. New Horizons was a resounding success, the F-35 is a shameful fiasco.



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  • NearlyNakedApe
    Aug 6, 2015 at 11:23 am

    Yes. The argument that the space program is stealing funds for “more important things like caring for the poor, the ill and needy” is the biggest and most smelly red herring ever.

    Farmers use space-based weather forecasts and satellite monitoring of crops. Transport systems delivering food and products to shops and doorsteps, use the internet and sat-navs, and yet people seem unable to make the mental connection that their routinely available cheaply delivered products, are courtesy of space technological research, – as are the emergency services and mobile phones used to call them, that they depend on after accidents an emergencies.



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