Research closes the gap on delayed brain growth associated with poverty

This article talks about child poverty and its negative impact on brain development.

Children raised in poverty show significant differences in brain structures linked to learning and education that correspond with impaired academic performance and standardized test achievement, new research shows.

Brain“We knew that poverty affects brain development and that there is an educational achievement gap between poor children and middle-class children,” coauthor Seth D. Pollak, PhD, Letters and Sciences Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, told Medscape Medical News.

“This research closes the gap to show that the delayed brain growth associated with poverty explains the educational achievement disparities.”

The study was published online July 20 in JAMA Pediatrics.

Long-term Impact

For the study, the investigators evaluated 823 MRI scans obtained between 2001 and 2007 from six data collection sites in the United States through the National Institutes of Health Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study of Normal Brain Development.

The scans were from 389 normally developing children and adolescents aged 4 to 22 years for whom complete sociodemographic and neuroimaging data were available. Assessments at baseline and 24- month intervals for three periods were available for 301 of the participants.

The participants were from economically diverse backgrounds, with approximately a quarter from families with incomes lower than 200% of the federal poverty level.

The MRI analysis showed that children from the poorest households had the greatest deficits: those from families with incomes lower than the federal poverty level had regional gray matter volumes that were as much as eight to 10 percentage points less than those of children with normal development (P < .05).

Children from families with income lower than 150% the federal poverty threshold had gray matter volumes that were 3 to 4 percentage points less than children with normal development (P < .05).

Compared with children from “near-poor” families, with incomes 150% to 200% higher than the federal poverty level, the poorest children showed significant maturational lags in brain regions, including the frontal lobe, the temporal lobe, and the hippocampus ― all areas involved in critical thinking skills, such as reading comprehension, language usage, and associative learning, the authors say.

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