Health development of young children significantly affected by poverty

October 12, 2020

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have found that disparities arising from poverty can affect the health of children from as young as 5 years old. The researchers used the Early Development Instrument (EDI), a measure of children’s physical, social, emotional and language development in 98 school districts across the US to show that poor children of colour face greater health inequities than their well-to-do white counterparts.

The EDI tool was developed by Dr. Dan Offord and Dr. Magdalena Janus at the Offord Centre for Child Studies at McMaster University in Ontario, and has been used widely in Canada, Australia and other nations before this.

“Many other studies have highlighted patterns of income and racial inequality in health and educational outcomes. Our study shows is that these patterns of inequality are clearly evident and measurable before kids start school,” said Dr. Neal Halfon, a professor of pediatrics, public health and public policy in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Amongst more than 185,000 kindergarteners, UCLA researchers found that at least 30% of children in the lowest-income neighborhoods were vulnerable in one or more domains of health development, compared to 17% of children in higher-income settings. Black children, in particular, were at highest risk, while Asian children were at lowest risk – such early disparities can have a profound influence on children’s long-term development, leading to higher rates of chronic conditions in adulthood such as diabetes, heart disease, drug use, mental health disorders and dementia.

“These findings not only highlight the equity challenges we face but also reveal the truly inequitable design of all the systems responsible for ensuring that children thrive,” added Efren Aguilar, geographic information systems lead at the Center for Healthier Children, Families, and Communities at UCLA.

“Only by addressing the historical exploitation and exclusion of marginalised communities, can we begin to repair the pains and exploitative practices of the past and redesign our community systems so that all children thrive.”

The UCLA researchers have chosen to make this data accessible to local communities to help them develop their own initiatives to address the root causes of inequalities.

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