7 October 2011

Inequalities in child development begin prenatally and in the first years of life, new Series from The Lancet

In 2007 The Lancet published a series of articles investigating the factors impeding children younger than 5 years from low-income and middle-income countries to attain their developmental potential. The series found that more than 200 million children worldwide could not fully develop primarily because of poverty, nutritional deficiencies, and inadequate learning opportunities.

In this new Series, the authors review new evidence on the mechanisms and causes of developmental inequality and economic implications and strategies to promote early child development. The follow-up Series documents progress in reduction of risk factors for poor development, such as inadequate cognitive stimulation, intrauterine growth restriction, HIV infection, and societal violence.

Key messages
• Exposure to biological and psychosocial risks affects the developing brain and compromises the development of children
• Inequalities in child development begin prenatally and in the first years of life
• With cumulative exposure to developmental risks, disparities widen and trajectories become more firmly established
• Reducing inequalities requires early integrated interventions that target the many risks to which children in a particular setting are exposed
• The most effective and cost-efficient time to prevent inequalities is early in life before trajectories have been firmly established
• Action or lack of action will have lifetime consequences for adult functioning, for the care of the next generation, and for the wellbeing of societies