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December 2001

Child Development in Pediatrics: Beyond Rhetoric

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2001;155(12):1294-1295. doi:10.1001/archpedi.155.12.1294

THE EXTENSIVE recent focus on the importance of early childhood development by multiple sources is unprecedented and indicates that it has become a national priority. Most important for pediatricians, parents are listening! To ensure a scientific base for programs and policy, the National Academy of Sciences (Washington, DC), as published in its book From Neurons to Neighborhoods,1 has rigorously reviewed the evidence on what is known about early child development and how to improve outcomes. Among other findings, it reports that early childhood experiences influence brain development and shape long-term behavioral outcomes and that parental mental health problems, particularly maternal depression and family violence, pose heavy developmental burdens on young children. The provocative and influential book Developmental Health and the Wealth of Nations,2 produced by a multidisciplinary group of scientists, synthesizes relevant research and promotes the proposition that the social context during infancy contributes not only to brain development but also to later adult health disorders. The Surgeon General has recently touted the importance of early preventive mental health measures for children.3 The first national educational goal emphasizes that all children should start school ready to learn.4 Popular magazines such as Newsweek and Time have devoted whole issues to early child development. Three White House conferences spanning 2 administrations in the past 5 years have specifically focused on early childhood issues. Such information challenges pediatricians and parents to apply new insights to their patients and families.

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