According to this study, the disparity in brain structure between children from high-income and low-income families is less than a third smaller in states with more aid than in states that offer less, and disparities in mental health symptoms has decreased approx. to halve.
The study, published in ‘Nature Communications’, highlights the impact socioeconomic inequalities can have on a child’s brain development, but shows the gap can be narrowed through state anti-poverty programmes, such as Tax credits for earned income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Medicaid.
The findings reflect data from the NIDA-led Study of Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD Study). Researchers from Harvard University and Washington University, St. Louis, analyzed data from the ABCD Study of more than 10,000 youth in 17 states that differed in their cost of living and anti-poverty policies.
Emerging evidence has shown that children from low-income families have less hippocampal volume than children from high-income families, and that the hippocampus plays an important role in memory and emotional learning.
“Many studies have found associations between the brain changes shown in this research and significant effects such as low test scores, lack of school preparation, and risk factors for mood disorders,” said NIDA director Nora Volkow.
By replicating findings from smaller studies, the research team first confirmed that lower family income is associated with smaller hippocampal volume and greater symptoms of mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, aggression, impulsivity and inattention. ,
Furthermore, they expected these disparities between high- and low-income families to end up in more expensive states, where the higher cost of living puts additional pressure on lower-income families. And sure enough, the difference in hippocampal volume between children from high- and low-income families was greatest in states with a high cost of living.
However, the availability and value of benefits from cash assistance programs reduced this disparity by 34 percent in states with the highest cost of living, and similarly, in states with Medicaid expansion, the disparity decreased by 43 percent.