Children who live and develop in poor areas have smaller brain volumes in highly important cognitive regions, such as the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus.
Researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States concluded in a recent study that children who live in the poorest sectors of cities have a reduced brain volume compared to children who are raised in the wealthiest neighborhoods.
According to a press release, when areas such as the hippocampus or the prefrontal cortex are affected, a decrease in cognitive functions such as verbal ability, reading, memory, or attention span is recorded.
Although previous research had already found clear and forceful relationships between the socioeconomic level of households and the cognitive development of children, this study enriches the view by finding similar relationships between the conditions of neighborhoods and neighborhoods with the cognitive performance of the little ones, in addition to verifying the physical consequences of poverty on the infant’s brain: certain regions of it grow less in certain contexts.
Researchers analyzed data from the Adolescent Brain Development Study (ABCD), a program that studies 12,000 American teens and young adults as they grow older.
Aspects such as the structure and activity of the brain are measured regularly by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), in addition to collecting psychological, environmental, and cognitive information related to the participants.
For this particular investigation, which was published in the JAMA Network Open, brain imaging data and neurocognitive tests were used from a total of 11,875 children, ages between 9 and 10 years.
The sample consisted of 48% women and 52% men, coming from 21 different places in the United States, including both urban and suburban areas.
The brain images analyzed allow researchers to conclude that children from poor neighborhoods present a decrease in the size of certain brain regions, mainly the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. These are two key areas in the brain in terms of cognitive functions linked to the development of memory and language processing.
According to researchers, this data can explain the causes of the worse performance of children from impoverished areas in cognitive performance tests, when comparing their results with those obtained by children living in neighborhoods with better socioeconomic conditions. It is worth noting that the analyzed data was obtained in 2018 and 2019.
The relationship between the poverty of neighborhoods and the size of some brain areas in children is evident according to the images studied, but so is the impact of this physical consequence on cognitive tests.
Faced with each unit of increase in poverty in the neighborhood according to the study’s standards, the children obtained 3.22 points less in the cognitive performance tests, making it clear that physical changes have a direct impact on verbal skills, literacy, attention span or memory response.
In addition to the forcefulness of the conclusions, this research can be very useful to understand the need to address the influence of poverty on the cognitive development of children from a broader environmental perspective, not only considering the reality of family groups or families. homes but also incorporating the impact of neighborhoods.
On the other hand, these data should be used by political and administrative officials to initiate programs that can improve conditions in disadvantaged areas in a comprehensive way, beyond specific aid that families can receive in each of the homes.
There is no doubt that if these results are obtained in areas of the United States, the reality of children in some countries in Africa, Asia or Latin America can become alarming.