Neighbourhood conditions linked with cognitive function of children

Research funded by National Institutes of Health from ABCD Study discovers association despite household income

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ChildrenA latest research suggests that children from poorer neighbourhoods perform less well on a range of cognitive functions.

The study has been published in JAMA Network Open. It said kids from less privileged neighbourhoods lack in cognitive functions like reading skills, memory, verbal ability and attention, and have smaller brain volumes in key cognitive regions when compared to those from wealthier neighborhoods.

Though multiple studies have shown that household socioeconomic status affects a child’s cognitive development, not much is known about the effect of the broader neighbourhood context.

Funded by 10 Institutes

The study is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and nine other institutes, centers, and offices that are part of the National Institutes of Health.

Researchers analysed data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, which concentrates on how environmental and biological factors influence adolescent development.

The group analysed data from brain imaging and neurocognitive testing from 11,875 9- and 10-year-old children (48% female) from 21 sites within the United States, largely reflecting urban and suburban areas.

The studies found that youth living in high poverty neighborhoods had lower volumes of certain brain regions, partially explaining the possible relationship between high neighborhood poverty and lower scores on cognitive tests. The affected areas of the brain were in the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, areas known to be involved in language and memory.

The differences in volume were significant even after the researchers adjusted for the effects of household income. For every unit increase in neighborhood poverty, children scored 3.22 points lower on cognitive testing, even when accounting for household income.

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While other studies have found poorer school and cognitive performance among children raised in impoverished environments, this research throws light on the specific importance of the neighborhood context in a child’s development, regardless of that child’s household income.

The findings suggest that policies that address uneven distribution of resources among neighborhoods may help lessen imbalances in cognitive performance. Additional research is needed to identify which neighborhood characteristics, such as school funding or environmental pollution, may influence children’s brain and cognitive development.

The ABCD Study is said to be the largest of its kind in the United States. It is tracking nearly 12,000 youth as they grow into young adults.

(With inputs from The OnLook News Research Bureau)

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