Being born into a low-income environment could increase the chances of neurological impairment, according to a recent National Institutes of Health study.
The research, published in the December issue of the International Journal of Epidemiology, found slight levels of neurological impairment among children from low-income households. The levels were moderate enough to go unnoticed by a casual observer, but high enough to still put children at increased risk of learning difficulties, attention deficit disorders and psychological conditions such as anxiety disorders and schizophrenia, according to an NIH news release.
Researchers examined data from the Collaborative Perinatal Project, which enrolled pregnant woman from 1959 through 1966 and obtained health information on more than 50,000 pregnancies and children. Children in the project received neurological examinations at birth, 4 months, 1 year and 7 years of age, the news release said. In addition to looking for abnormalities in posture, motor skills response to skin stimulation and muscle strength, physicians also evaluated the automatic nervous system, which includes functions not under conscious control, such as breathing, heartbeat and digestions, the news release said. Parents in the study were placed into three groups — low, medium or high likelihood of socioeconomic disadvantage, which was based on factors such as educational level, income relative to the U.S. poverty level, occupation, employment status and whether there were two parents living in the home.
Although researchers initially found no significant difference in neurological impairment at birth despite socioeconomic disadvantage, at 4 months, the chance of having a neurological abnormality was higher in the most disadvantaged children, at 12.8%, according to the news release. The likelihood of having a neurological abnormality increased to 20.2% by age 7.
“The size of the effect we saw was modest,” the study’s senior author, Stephen Gilman, acting chief of the Health Behavior Branch at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said in the news release. “However, the findings do indicate that an impoverished environment may pose a hazard for a child’s developing nervous system.”
Study authors concluded further research is needed to determine how poverty in childhood could affect neurological development, which might help find ways to prevent impairment from happening in the future. Researchers also noted that the number of children living below the federal poverty threshold is higher today than it was when the CPP data were collected.
The study included researchers from Taipei City Hospital in Taiwan, Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington, Mass., Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, R.I., Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston; Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
To comment, email [email protected]