Childhood Poverty Produces Smaller Brains?
The rich aren't just further ahead in wealth. Researchers have found smaller brain volumes in poor, neglected children.
Children who grow up poor were found to have smaller brain sizes, researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found.
Using brain imaging technology, researchers have documented measurable changes in the brain tied to poverty. The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, found that children who grew up in poor homes had less white and grey matter in their brains compared with the less impoverished. Grey matter is linked to intelligence and white matter helps transmit signals. The poorer children also had smaller hippocampus and amygdala regions, is key to regulating attention, memory and emotions.
The researchers explained that smaller brain regions may be due to the increased stress and anxiety that these children experience growing up in families where a finances are difficult. When money is tight, the interaction and support between parent and child suffers. Children in poverty also experience stress from an unsafe living environment or have parents who fight regularly.
Previous research also explored the effects of living in poverty in childhood. Charles Nelson, who wrote an accompanying editorial in the journal, said that the findings will help researchers get a better understanding on how experience shapes biology.
According to the latest Census numbers, 21.3 percent of children are poor. Research has shown the that long-term consequences of poverty are clear.
- Children born in poor families are significantly more likely to live in persistent poverty than children born in higher income families, via a finding from The Urban Institute. Approximately 40 to 60 percent of children in the former group go on to live in poverty throughout their childhoods compared to 5 to 9 percent of children in the latter group. By race, about 30 percent of white children and nearly 70 percent of black children born in poor households continue to live in poverty for at least half of their childhood.
- "Scientists find [people who grew up poor] are more prone to illness than those who were never poor. Becoming more affluent may lower the risk of disease by lessening the sense of helplessness and allowing greater access to healthful resources like exercise, more nutritious foods and greater social support; people are not absolutely condemned by their upbringing," writes the New York Times.
- Poverty affects people right down to the bone, according to Business Insider, "people who experienced early-life adversity were found to bear scars of that stress right in their DNA. Our telomeres (the tips of chromosomes) get shorter as we age, but people who grew up poor were found to have even shorter tips over time, suggesting accelerated aging."
Are you surprised by the new findings about smaller brain sizes among poor children?