Impact of neighborhood economy on a child’s brain

November 11, 2020
Miranda Hester
Miranda Hester

Ms. Hester is Content Specialist with Contemporary OB/GYN and Contemporary Pediatrics.

Household poverty has been linked to suboptimal outcomes. A report investigates how neighborhood-level poverty impacts the brain of a minor.

Poverty has been linked to many suboptimal outcomes for children. A report in JAMA Network Open offers a look at the links between neighborhood poverty, brain structure, and child cognitive performance.1

The researchers used a baseline sample from the ongoing longitudinal Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study. The data for the study were collected from 21 sites across the United States, mostly in urban or suburban areas. It used school-based recruiting to develop a cohort that reflected the US population. Parents or guardians provided information about the household and neighborhood via a questionnaire. Socioeconomic status of the child and family was found using the Parent-Reported Financial Adversity Questionnaire and the household outcome. Brain imaging was done as the child watched a child-appropriate movie chosen by the participant .

There were a total of 11,875 children aged 9 and 10 years included in the analysis. The researchers found that greater neighborhood poverty was tied to lower scores in all cognitive domains (eg, total composite: β = −0.18; 95% CI, −0.21 to −0.15; P < .001) as well as decreased brain volume in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) (eg, right DLPFC: β = −0.09; 95% CI, −0.12 to −0.07; P < .001), dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC) (eg, right DMPC: β = −0.07; 95% CI, −0.09 to −0.05; P < .001), superior frontal gyru (SFG) (eg, right SFG: β = −0.05; 95% CI, −0.08 to −0.03; P < .001), and right hippocampus (β = −0.04; 95% CI, −0.06 to −0.01; P = .01). This held even when taking into account household income. A greater household income was tied to higher scores in all cognitive domains (eg, total composite: β = 0.30; 95% CI, 0.28 to 0.33; P < .001) as well as larger volume in all prefrontal and hippocampal brain regions (eg, right hippocampus: β = 0.04; 95% CI, 0.02 to 0.07; P < .001), even when taking neighborhood into consideration.

The investigators concluded the neighborhood poverty was linked to unique variation in both cognitive function as well as prefrontal and right hippocampal brain volume. They believe that the findings show the need to include broad environmental influences when examining early life adversity.


1. Taylor R, Cooper S, Jackson J, Barch D. Assessment of neighborhood poverty, cognitive function, and prefrontal and hippocampal volumes in children. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(11):e2023774. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.23774