Prolonged childhood stress takes toll on developing brains that can last a lifetime

“Stress wears the body down,” HSPH Prof. Jack P. Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard, told the Boston Globe. When the stress response system stays activated for long periods of time, the hormones it releases can have lasting effects on brain chemistry. These effects are particularly toxic for young children, interfering with healthy brain development, Shonkoff said in a February 25, 2012, interview.

Early childhood programs can provide support to children made vulnerable by abuse, neglect, and exposure to violence, helping to reduce their stress. Such support is not only “morally imperative,” Shonkoff said, it will save money in the long run by reducing the societal costs of the consequences of toxic stress, which include incarceration, poverty, and chronic disease.

“What’s exciting about the biology is it takes it out of the political realm and asks us how it is that poverty and maltreatment result in problems later and how we could prevent that,” Shonkoff said in the article. “It offers more ideas for new solutions and new approaches, rather than just the same old political arguments. Everybody wins if we prevent toxic stress in young children, and everybody loses if we don’t.”

Read Boston Globe article

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VIDEO: The toxic stress of early childhood adversity: Rethinking health and education policy (The Forum at Harvard School of Public Health)

Protecting children from adversity key to healthy development (HSPH feature)