New research shows that poverty affects brain development in children, hampering he growth of gray matter in the brain and impairing their academic performance.
Poor children tend to have as much as 10 percent less gray matter in several areas of the brain associated with academic skills, says the new study published in the Journal of the American Medicine Association (JAMA) - Pediatrics.
Previous studies have shown that children living in poverty tend to perform poorly in school; they have markedly lower test scores, and do not go as far in school as their well-off peers. Now researchers have shown that there could be a biomedical reason for this poor performance.
Researchers involved in the study analyzed MRI scans of 389 typically developing kids aged 4 to 22 in the United States, assessing the amount of gray matter in the whole brain. While other parts of the brain, like white matter, carry information from one section of the brain to another, the gray matter is where seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making and self-control occur.
Researchers found that children living below poverty level in the US had 3 percent to 4 percent less gray matter in important regions of their brain, compared to the norm and this increased to 8 percent to 10 percent as poverty levels increased. Children in these groups were also found to score an average of four to seven points lower on standardized tests. The team estimated that as much as 20 percent of the gap in test scores could be explained by reduced brain development.
A host of poverty-related issues are likely to be contributing to developmental lags in children's brains. For example, low-income kids are less likely to get the type of stimulation from their parents and environment that helps the brain grow. They tend to hear fewer new words, and have fewer opportunities to read or play games.
Their brain development also can be affected by factors related to impoverishment, such as high stress levels, poor sleep, crowding and poor nutrition. This study serves as a call to action, as it has already been shown that early interventions are more effective and also cost-effective than interventions later in life.