Approximately out of 2.2 billion children in the world, around a billion live in poverty. For each child not living in poverty, there is a child somewhere struggling to survive with less than $1 a day, seeking access to nutrition, clean water, sanitary conditions, shelter and medical help. As individuals with significantly more privilege and opportunity, we may be able to help these young individuals and propose solutions to the adversities that they face, but things may not be looking up. According to a recent study, no matter how hard we try, we will always be a little too late. Income discrepancies above the poverty line have little to no effect on children’s brain development, whereas poverty imposes conditions that are impossible for the brain to cope with. The plight stunts brain growth, which cannot be reversed later in life.
A few months ago, we focused on how poverty affects children’s cognitive capacity. Children living below the poverty line respond poorly to the education that they receive, falling even more behind later in life. Seth Pollak from the University of Wisconsin conducted his own study to substantiate this argument and take it further by bringing in data from different economic classes to see whether “money” directly affected brain growth. Through his analysis, he concluded that money does not necessarily mean a better brain for children since there was not an apparent difference between a low-income brain and a middle-class brain. However, as he started studying brains affected by poverty, he saw a significant difference in the gray matter up to 8 to 10 percent between children who lived in poverty and those who did not. Why does it matter? Simply because the damage done to the brain unfortunately equals a child’s lost potential.
As science proves poverty’s fallout effect, it becomes more evident for the world to take immediate action. Complacency is definitely not a solution anymore, and that is why the United Nations General Assembly has recently gathered to make some important decisions, called the Sustainable Development Goals; also known as the SDGs. For those who follow the agenda of the United Nations pretty closely, any acronym with a “DG” at the end is no new concept. In the 2000 General Assembly meeting -the largest international political gathering of all times- world leaders decided to designate 8 Millennial Development Goals (MDGs) for the upcoming 15 years to eradicate poverty, inequality and many other entrenched problems of human history. Unfortunately, similar to Back to the Future’s failure in expecting 2015 to be the year of flying cars, the UN failed in imagining the same year as the year when world problems significantly diminished – if not disappeared. After seeing the failure of the MDGs, the UN came back with a stronger plan with the SDGs in 2015 – just a few days before the International Day of Eradication of Poverty Conference. Brain World Magazine was in attendance, wondering whether at the core of this cognitive stagnation lied our lateness in responding.
Yes, we are late, but does that mean we cannot and should not do anything? While we might want the best for our own children, we tend to miss the bigger picture. Some days, it does not even come to our attention that the socioeconomic struggles that poverty entails can by no means be compared to our material strivings as individuals hoping for a better salary, clothes, car or an apartment. When we find ourselves fully dependent on the material sometimes, it is important that we refocus our priorities, acknowledge the severity that does not necessarily exist in close proximity to us and take some action. You do not know how? We suggest, spreading the facts could be a good way to start…
by Deniz Cam