State News

Study: Child Poverty Affects Brain Development

Posted April 22, 2008

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— A new report says poverty in North Carolina leads to learning disabilities, behavior problems and other psychological and emotional problems for young people.

The report, "Child Poverty in North Carolina: A Preventable Epidemic," was released Tuesday by Action for Children North Carolina. The advocacy group called for more access to affordable child care, health insurance and other community  support for low-income working families.

One in four children under age 5 in North Carolina lives in poverty, according to the report. Poverty among children statewide has surpassed the national average after being below average for years, the report said.

The report cites research from Harvard University that says stress experienced by poor families hurts brain development in youngsters.

“The recent scientific developments have shown us that a child’s brain is built layer by layer,” Barbara Bradley, president and chief executive of Action for Children North Carolina, said in a statement.

“The negative effects of poverty and the stress it can cause a child and ... parents are literally built into the layers of a child’s developing brain, which can lead to detrimental mental, emotional and physical health problems down the road. It is time to use this vital information to change the way we address poverty as a state,” Bradley added.

Margaret Arbuckle with the Guilford Education Alliance said that studying brain development shows the impact of poverty. The effect can be seen in children's complex thinking and reasoning skills, impulse control and their ability to create relationships, Arbuckle said.


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  • whatelseisnew Apr 23, 2008


    Yes of course that is poverty; if they were even poorer, they would have had a driver, a personal shopper, and a porter to load up the groceries.

  • TheAdmiral Apr 23, 2008

    "The United States is considered one of the world's greatest economic powers"

    Yeah, but we can't educate anyone about managing their money.

  • TheAdmiral Apr 23, 2008

    I think everyone should be in poverty - that way all of them will be on an even keel and the Wake County School System don't have to work so hard at dumbing down the smart ones.

  • educgrad Apr 22, 2008

    what a joke, we grew up poor, lived on hand me downs,my brother was valedictorian of his class in high school I did well myself.

  • Tawny Apr 22, 2008

    In reflection of Harrison's comments, The United States is considered one of the world's greatest economic powers, spends the most for health insurance, but the greater population suffers from more chronic illnesses than any other industrialized country on earth. Poor nutrition accounts for the vast array of chronic illnesses we suffer as a population. Poor nutrition accounts for the developmental delays that our children, and in particular our children living within households of lower socioeconomic means may suffer. Our companies and manufacturers load our foods with higher sugar content, preservatives, and other multi-syllable words that we can't begin to pronounce. It would be much more enlightening if our research focused more on what food content does to a developing child's brain, and then on what we could do to improve that.
    All of our IQ's would improve, Harrison, if we were more nutritionally healthy.

  • NCMOMof3 Apr 22, 2008

    damfrisky33, I was in line behind 2 individuals with a cart full of convience foods, soda, etc. Not a nutritional, homecooked, vegetable, meat, fruit, or sale item in the buggy. One individual paid for the item with a food stamp card. Ok, no problem, everyone needs help now and again. Her bill was less than a dollar over what was loaded onto her card. The rest of us waited in line (I saw cash in her wallet now) while friend went out into the parking lot, got her food stamp card, came back in, and paid the rest of the bill. Again, less than 1 dollar. I paid for my groceries, using sale items, coupons, and every other bargain I could find to stretch my dollar, and walked out into the parking lot to find these 2 individuals getting into a late model chevrolet surburban with tricked out rims and interior to match...price tag had to be at least $50 grand. That's poverty

  • whatelseisnew Apr 22, 2008


    Yeah we should do something about Poverty. First end all government subsidies for poor people; all of it. Tell people they are responsible for changing their status period. This garbage has been going on for over 50 years. Poverty levels are the same as always. Don't tell me people are going hungry. Ifthey are then they need to get off their backsides and do something about it. This study is another load of bilge that is just intended to keep government dollars flowing. I am willing to help those that can not help themselves; people that are either mentally deficient or physically unable. After that, I could care less what happens to them. If they think Government will solve their problems, they are wrong. Decades of government failures is there to prove it.

  • Harrison Bergeron Apr 22, 2008

    They go on to say:

    "Cognitive deficits related to undernutrition are now believed to result from complex interactions between environmental insults and undernutrition. A cumulative effect of persistent exposure to undernutrition and poverty has been shown clearly. The longer a child's nutritional, emotional and educational needs go unmet, the greater the overall cognitive deficits. Continuous low nutritional intake, for example, usually affects psychological factors such as motivation, attentiveness and emotional expression. These in turn, may have a negative effect on critical developmental processes including parent-child interaction, attachment, play and eventually learning."

    Could it be instead that the older the child gets, the more the heritability of IQ influences its cognitive ability?

  • Harrison Bergeron Apr 22, 2008

    From the Center on Hunger and Poverty:

    "Recent evidence indicates that malnutrition alone does not necessarily cause cognitive alterations. Studies reveal differences, for example, in the cognitive functioning of children suffering from malnutrition due to illness, compared to children malnourished due to dietary deficiencies associated with poverty. Children malnourished due to illness generally do not show developmental delays associated with their malnutrition, whereas such delays are evident among malnourished children living in poverty.

    Many researchers no longer emphasize that malnutrition alone causes irreversible damage to the brain. This indicates that the mechanism causing long-term cognitive impairment is not necessarily alteration of brain structure itself, although evidence is insufficient to rule out structural damage altogether."

    So, let's see, malnutrition from illness DOESN'T cause cognitive impairment, but malnutrition from poverty does...


  • FIGSSIT Apr 22, 2008

    Studies like this are what justifies people with Phd's to get super high salaries. Find something very obvious, with an all to obvious conclusion, throw some fancy $2 words and you "get paid". hahhahah LOL.