State News

Study: Child Poverty Affects Brain Development

Posted April 22, 2008 6:41 a.m. EDT
Updated April 22, 2008 4:10 p.m. EDT

Baby Medical

— 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.