January 18, 2016
1 min read

Disadvantaged children at increased risk for neural abnormalities

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Children born into poverty had an increased risk for neurological impairment before they were aged 7 years, according to recent research in The International Journal of Epidemiology.

“Exposure to socioeconomic disadvantage during early childhood is associated with neural deficits that are detectable upon physical examination,” Stephen E. Gilman, ScD, acting chief of the health behavior branch at the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and colleagues wrote. “This finding confirms that aspects of the child’s environment at the very beginning of life may impede both peripheral and central nervous system development, as well as lower and higher cortical functions of the brain, with potentially long-term consequences for children’s health.”

Stephen Gilman

Stephen E. Gilman

The researchers retrospectively studied data from 36,443 children followed from birth to age 7 years, collected from the United States Collaborative Perinatal Project. Participants were neurologically assessed at birth, 1 month, 1 year and 7 years. Results related to socioeconomic status were calculated using responses to a social history interview administered at enrollment.

Study results showed that children born into socioeconomically disadvantaged families were more likely to have neurological abnormalities at age 4 months (OR = 1.2; 95% CI, 1.06-1.37), 1 year (OR = 1.35; 95% CI, 1.17-1.56) and 7 years (OR = 1.67; 95% CI, 1.48-1.89). Data also showed that at age 7 years children were more likely to display neurological hard signs (OR = 1.39; 95% CI, 1.1-1.76), soft signs (OR = 1.26; 95% CI, 1.09-1.45) and autonomic nervous system function.

Although pregnancy and delivery complications were associated with low socioeconomic status, the investigators said they were not associated with an increase in neurological impairments.

“Future research should explore the specific domains of neural functioning that are most susceptible to socioeconomic disadvantage and, considering that the nervous system has the greatest degree of plasticity during infancy and early childhood, the extent to which the abnormalities we identified can be reversed,” Gilman and colleagues wrote. – by David Costill

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.