Disadvantaged neighborhoods, characterized by poverty, unemployment, and other socio-economic challenges, could pose particular environmental risks to the brain development of children, according to a USC study released Wednesday.
The study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, suggests that such factors could affect adolescent neurocognitive performance and even brain size.
Researchers said the findings highlight the importance of neighborhood environments for healthy child and adolescent brain growth.
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They also suggested that policies, programs and investments that help improve local conditions and empower communities could better support children's brain development and long-term health.
"This is the first large, national study of neurodevelopment to determine that the role of neighborhood disadvantage is similar across all regions of the country, and we found that what mattered most were the local differences in neighborhood disadvantage within each city, rather than how cities differ from each other overall," said lead author Daniel Hackman, assistant professor at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.
Researchers from the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and the Keck School of Medicine of USC used data from the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, collected from October 2016 to October 2018.
The ABCD study is the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States, USC said.
"Our findings aren't specific to the child's home life, as we adjusted for socioeconomic factors at each child's home," said senior author Megan Herting, assistant professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine.
"But the research suggests neighborhoods may have different levels of social and educational resources and opportunities that can impact a child's neurodevelopment."
Researchers said other possible factors in disadvantaged neighborhoods that could affect children's brain growth are a lack of quality health services; access to nutritional foods and well-maintained parks and recreation facilities; and possible exposure to more pollutants or social stressors.
"This research is important, as it not only highlights that neighborhoods matter but it also suggests that promoting neighborhood equity based on the unique local conditions within cities may improve short- and long-term health and development of children and adolescents," Hackman said.
The study was supported with grants from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institutes of Health and the Rose Hills Foundation.