Poverty as a Childhood Disease: A View from Wisconsin

Recently, Perri Klass, M.D. wrote an article on the New York Times blog titled “Poverty as a Childhood Disease”. Dr. Klass shared that at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies, there was a new call for pediatricians to address childhood poverty as a national problem, rather than wrestling with its consequences case-by-case in the exam room. To further Dr. Klass’s discussion, WECA board member Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD wrote the following blog post.

“Poverty is neurotoxic.”  Yes, those words should make you sit up and take notice.  I’ve been saying them for about a year now.  It’s a conclusion I’ve come to after seeing the dramatic studies which show substantial deficits in learning among children who have experienced adversity early on in their lives — and with few or no strong, supportive relationships to buffer the effects of that adversity.  I am proud to be part of both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Academic Pediatric Association, who are calling attention to the concept of poverty as a childhood disease.

Dipesh Navsaria, MD

WECA Board Member, Dipesh Navsaria, M.D.explains the importance of early childhood education on brain development.

I’ve seen this as a problem throughout many areas of Wisconsin.  I’ve noticed it in Native American populations when I’ve worked with them.  I saw it in the hospital as a physician-in-training.  And in my clinical practice at Access Community Health Center in South Madison, I evaluate many children for “school issues” or “behavior problems”.  They are rarely straightforward cases. When I “go digging” in their histories, I find that early exposure to adversity has left a legacy we don’t want children to have: lifelong impairment in learning, thinking, and emotional skills.  Even worse, if we examine the data, we find that traditional medical illnesses also may have significant roots in these issues. Continue reading