Mediators and Adverse Effects of Child Poverty in the United States

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The link between poverty and children’s health is well recognized. Even temporary poverty may have an adverse effect on children’s health, and data consistently support the observation that poverty in childhood continues to have a negative effect on health into adulthood. In addition to childhood morbidity being related to child poverty, epidemiologic studies have documented a mortality gradient for children aged 1 to 15 years (and adults), with poor children experiencing a higher mortality rate than children from higher-income families. The global great recession is only now very slowly abating for millions of America’s children and their families. At this difficult time in the history of our nation’s families and immediately after the 50th anniversary year of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, it is particularly germane for the American Academy of Pediatrics, which is “dedicated to the health of all children,” to publish a research-supported technical report that examines the mediators associated with the long-recognized adverse effects of child poverty on children and their families. This technical report draws on research from a number of disciplines, including physiology, sociology, psychology, economics, and epidemiology, to describe the present state of knowledge regarding poverty’s negative impact on children’s health and development. Children inherit not only their parents’ genes but also the family ecology and its social milieu. Thus, parenting skills, housing, neighborhood, schools, and other factors (eg, medical care) all have complex relations to each other and influence how each child’s genetic canvas is expressed. Accompanying this technical report is a policy statement that describes specific actions that pediatricians and other child advocates can take to attenuate the negative effects of the mediators identified in this technical report and improve the well-being of our nation’s children and their families.