Inequality in early childhood: risk and protective factors for early child development

Inequality between and within populations has origins in adverse early experiences. Developmental neuroscience shows how early biological and psychosocial experiences affect brain development. We previously identified inadequate cognitive stimulation, stunting, iodine deficiency, and iron-deficiency anaemia as key risks that prevent millions of young children from attaining their developmental potential. Recent research emphasises the importance of these risks, strengthens the evidence for other risk factors including intrauterine growth restriction, malaria, lead exposure, HIV infection, maternal depression, institutionalisation, and exposure to societal violence, and identifies protective factors such as breastfeeding and maternal education. Evidence on risks resulting from prenatal maternal nutrition, maternal stress, and families affected with HIV is emerging. Interventions are urgently needed to reduce children’s risk exposure and to promote development in affected children. Our goal is to provide information to help the setting of priorities for early child development programmes and policies to benefit the world’s poorest children and reduce persistent inequalities

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