Friday, February 29, 2008

This Is Your Brain On Poverty: Any Questions?

Financial Times of London had a piece about research that is right up my alley as they say. Check it out:

Poverty in early childhood poisons the brain, the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston heard on Friday.

Neuroscientists said many children growing up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development. That effect is on top of any damage caused by inadequate nutrition and exposure to environmental toxins.

Studies by several US universities have revealed the pervasive harm done to the brain, particularly between the ages of six months and three years, from low socio-economic status.

Martha Farah, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s centre for cognitive neuroscience, said: “The biggest effects are on language and memory. The finding about memory impairment – the ability to encounter a pattern and remember it – really surprised us.”

Jack Shonkoff, director of Harvard University’s centre on the developing child, said policymakers had to take note of the research because “the foundation of all social problems later in life takes place in the early years”.

“The earlier you intervene [to counteract the impact of poverty], the better the outcome in the end, because the brain loses its plasticity [adaptability] as the child becomes older,” he said. (Read the whole thing here)

Guess who were twice as likely to be living in poverty than whites in the United States. That's right, blacks and hispanics. (at least in 2006).

That's a lot of little brains being damaged out there. Wonder what the long term consequences will be for racial justice and equality in America. But American is post-racial now, right?

"If ye stay not the hand of the oppressor, if ye fail to safeguard the rights of the down-trodden, what right have ye then to vaunt yourselves among men? What is it of which ye can rightly boast? Is it on your food and your drink that ye pride yourselves, on the riches ye lay up in your treasuries, on the diversity and the cost of the ornaments with which ye deck yourselves?"
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 252)

In related news, the Baha'i International Community recently published a statement on the eradication of global poverty:

A new statement from the Baha'i International Community calls for a coherent, principle-based approach to the eradication of global poverty.

BIC representatives introduced the statement, "Eradicating Poverty: Moving Forward as One," yesterday at a luncheon held at their offices across from the United Nations. About 40 representatives from various non-governmental organizations and UN agencies gathered for the presentation.

Tahirih Naylor, a representative of the BIC to the United Nations, said the statement was released to coincide with the 46th Commission for Social Development at the United Nations, which runs 6-15 February 2008.

"This year, the Commission is focusing on the themes of promoting full employment and decent work for all," said Ms. Naylor. "These are important aspects of poverty eradication, but we wanted to advocate a more coherent approach, one that looks at the wide range of issues that must be addressed in an integrated way if global poverty is to be eliminated." (Read the whole article and also access the statement here)