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Oct 29, 2013 04:04 PM EDT

Childhood Poverty Affects Brain Development; Early Nurturing Crucial

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(Photo : Flickr) About one in 13 American schoolchildren are taking at least one medication for emotional or behavioral disorders, according to a new government report.

More nurturing may protect children from brain changes linked to poverty, according to a group of researchers, CBS News reported.

Washington University researcher Dr. Joan Luby identified changes in brain anatomy in children living in poverty. She found that poor children who didn't have a nurturing home life tended to have less gray and white matter in their brains. They also had smaller parts of the brain linked to emotion, learning, and memory.

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But Luby's study also showed that the children living in poverty who had parents who were more supportive had better brain outcomes.

"This study really gives us a more feasible, tangible target and suggests that early interventions that target parenting may be tremendously important," she said in a statement.

The study suggests early interventions might even be able to reverse the brain changes if caught quickly enough.

Luby said there's been a lot of research showing poverty has negative effects on development, but this is the first study to suggest what it is about poverty which is so detrimental to the developing brain.

Among children living in poverty, the researchers identified changes in the brain that can lead to lifelong problems like depression, learning difficulties and limitations in the ability to cope with stress. The study showed the extent of those changes was influenced strongly by whether parents were nurturing.

The good news, according to the researchers, is that a nurturing home life may offset some of the negative changes in brain anatomy among poor children.

"Exposure to poverty involves multiple risk factors. It involves possible declines in nutrition, differences in social support, exposure to increased stresses," she said. "But what this study showed is that even children living in poverty who had parents who were more supportive had better brain outcomes."

And the findings suggest that teaching nurturing skills to parents - particularly those living in poverty - may provide a lifetime benefit for their children.

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