The well-being of today’s children affects the future vitality of our community. Young children who enjoy positive early experiences are better able to develop the skills that prepare them for school. Children who arrive at kindergarten prepared to learn perform better throughout school and complete more years of education. A more educated workforce, in turn, means higher incomes, more public revenues, and less poverty and crime — in other words, a thriving city that attracts business and jobs.
The first three years of life are critically important for a child’s brain development. Experiences during this time can have life-long effects on intellectual, emotional, and social functioning. The months a baby spends in the womb, along with the first 12 months after birth, are arguably the most important time of all. During this period, specialized brain cells called neurons are forming connections with each other, creating the networks that underlie thinking, learning, and feeling.
Nutrition is the single greatest environmental influence on babies in the womb and during infancy, and it remains essential throughout the first years of life. Prenatal malnutrition, for example, has been linked to later adverse health and cognitive outcomes. Likewise, malnutrition in infancy and early childhood is a key risk factor for cognitive deficits, lower academic achievement, and behavior problems.
Despite marketing claims that some television programs and DVDs help infants and toddlers learn, recent studies show that TV provides only empty calories for a child’s growing brain. The following research brief reviews the evidence that parents and caregivers of young children should take television off the menu.
If asked to think of an example of someone affected by stress, most of us would probably imagine a college student studying all night for an exam or an employee scrambling to meet a deadline. Few of us are likely to think of a child listening to his parents argue in the next room, and even fewer would picture an infant being ignored by a mother suffering from depression.
Neural tube defects (NTDs) are among the most common congenital anomalies in the United States, second only in frequency to congenital heart defects. Efforts to reduce the prevalence of these devastating abnormalities demonstrates the effectiveness of the translation of basic science and population research to health care practices, and from practice to public policy.