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Poverty Can Slow Kids' Normal Development

Remedies for 'material hardships' depend on society's willingness, expert says

MONDAY, April 12 (HealthDay News) -- The effects of poverty -- from crowded housing to insufficient heat and an uncertain diet -- combine to lower the chances that infants and toddlers will be healthy and grow normally, new research suggests.

"The current findings raise serious concerns about the future well-being of America's young children, given rising poverty among families with young children and many households' inadequate wages and benefits to meet fluctuating food, housing and energy costs," the study's lead author, Dr. Deborah Frank, a pediatrician and director of the Grow Clinic at Boston Medical Center, said in a hospital news release.

Research and interventions often neglect to take into account "material hardships" -- such as decreased access to food, housing issues and inconsistent home heating -- when they consider the effects of poverty on children, the study authors noted.

The new study, published online April 12 in the journal Pediatrics, involved more than 7,000 children aged 4 months to 3 years who were brought to urban primary-care clinics or hospital emergency departments for care.

These children were less likely to have normal growth, health and development -- or "wellness" -- if their scores were higher on an index that evaluated hardships. The discrepancy remained even after the researchers took into account factors that might throw off their findings.

"We know that deprivations in early life can become biologically embedded, forcing children onto negative trajectories that jeopardize their health, their school readiness and their ability to earn a living as adults," Frank said. "We also know that the remedies for many of these hardships are within reach if our society chooses to prescribe them."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on child development.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: Boston University Medical Center, news release, April 12, 2010

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