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Child Poverty Affects Brain Development

Jun 6, 2016

Child Poverty Affects Brain Development


Being poor has always had a stigma attached to it, but new research shows that poverty may actually put a person at a higher risk for depression. The Washington School of Medicine located in St. Louis, MO, recently did a study on brain connectivity in children. They examined children from affluent families as well as those from poorer ones. The results of the study were uncanny, providing strong evidence toward this correlation.


Reduction in Brain Matter Causes Poor Academics


What they found is that child poverty affects brain development. Children raised in poor conditions have less gray and white matter inside the brain. Those from richer families seem to have sufficient matter. The reduction in brain matter leads to poorer academic achievement. The data was collected using 105 preschool children aged 3-5 years old. To be considered poor in the United States, a family of four cannot make more than $24,250.


Brain Function Issues Leads To Early Onset Depression


When the children reached the 7-12-year-old milestones, they were given an MRI. Researchers focused in on the hippocampus section. This area of the brain is known for controlling learning, memory and stress regulation. They also paid special attention to the amygdala region in the brain. This area is responsible for stress and emotion. Those who were from the poor families showed that they had weak connections in these areas. These weaknesses were notated in the left hippocampus and the right superior frontal cortex. The children are now at a risk of early onset of depression between 9-10 years of age. To think that a child can develop depression so young should be thought provoking. It is not because of genetics or trauma, but rather merely because of the amount of money their family earns.


Overcoming Poverty Through Resources


The good news is that these issues can be overcome. Improving a child’s home environment is seemingly the most obvious place to start. With help and assistance from outside sources, those who help to encourage positive emotional development for the children may see great benefits.The link between child poverty and brain development cannot be ignored. A child cannot help what sort of family they were born into, but through resources, it is our moral and societal imperative to help change their future. Parents need to go the extra mile even if their financial resources are limited. There are plenty of agencies that can assist with both education and emotional needs of the child.



Effect of hippocampal and amygdala connectivity on the relationship between preschool poverty and school-age depression, Deanna M. Barch et al., The American Journal of Psychiatry, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2015.15081014, published online 15 January 2016, abstract.

  • Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis news release, accessed 19 January 2016.