Poverty on Intelligence and Health


A recent report from the New York Times highlights an important study from 1972 observing the health effects of poverty on children. The article is titled, Project to Improve Poor Children’s Intellect Led to Better Health. The impact of poverty not only on health, but intelligence as well, has been a focus of much research and policy for many years.

In this study, one group was given full-time daycare up until the age of 5. The program included games, daily meals, adult-to-child conversation, and other stimulating activities. The other group reportedly received nothing, as the scientists were testing the effects of special treatment and cognitive abilities.

Researchers now, forty-two years later, have found that the group members who received care were far healthier, with sharply lower rates of high blood pressure, obesity, and higher levels of “good cholesterol” as adults. This study was recently published in the journal Science. Along with other studies in combination, recent findings have led researchers into the understanding that hardships in childhood have lifelong health consequences–good and bad, depending on the child’s socioeconomic status, or level of care.

The impact of this study relates to policy and decision making, as well as implications of evidence suggesting how some laws can be improved. Various “welfare” or assistance programs provide children of all statuses the opportunities a privileged child would get. Many people throughout history have said, “Children are our future,” including, Whitney Houston. This is why advocates seek to improve circumstances for children in poverty so they can develop the cognitive skills, or intelligence, and maintain proper health for better opportunities.

James Heckman, professor of economics at the University of Chicago, led a data analysis and says the study describes how adversity truly matters, and it will affect the children up until adulthood mentally and physically. Heckman also says the study gives the country initiative to help the poor with this “helpless” outlook.

The recent publishing of this old study could be linked to a push in the Obama administration for public funding in preschools. In the President’s State of the Union address last year, he announced intentions of making high-quality preschool available for every child in America, rallying advocates across the nation who have long argued the need for equal opportunities early on.

The federal government has worked with states to allow for preschool to be available for all children 4-years-old. Obama’s plan also expands Early Head Start programs for children in low-income families.

The Way Poverty Affects Intelligence
A writer from The Atlantic Cities, Emily Badger, points out that human mental “bandwidth” is finite. Badger claims that living an impoverished lifestyle is taxing on the brain, and can leave little room for extra schooling or other methods to bring oneself out of poverty.

Princeton, Harvard, and the University of Warwick researchers conducted a study of low-income people and found that poverty affects the IQ of an individual by roughly 13 points. The effects of poverty on their study were equal in effect to losing a night of sleep and similar in capacity to that of a chronic alcoholic. The study also debunked the common belief that the lower intellectual capacity of those impoverished are suffering from inherent weaknesses.

Frances Campbell, senior scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, found through his research that people with better care early on had a less likelihood of developing hypertension. Campbell said his findings consisted of real biological markers, blood tests, and physical results.

Intelligence and health are said to be the most important effects of poverty, which heavily influence the quality of life of a human. People and researchers have been studying economic disparities for a long time, and federal programs and research may be seen to progress as the war on poverty continues.

By Lindsey Alexander


The Atlantic Cities

New York Times


New York Times

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