The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its Goodwill Ambassador and international pop star Shakira urged global leaders today to invest heavily in early childhood development in the wake of new science that is creating a revolutionary shift in understanding the lasting effects of deprivation and stress on the developing brains of young children.
“More than 100 million children are out of school and 159 million boys and girls under five are physically and cognitively stunted due to a lack of care and proper nutrition,” said Shakira, who joined Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake and the Director of the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, Dr. Jack P. Shonkoff at an event at UN Headquarters in New York.
“Every year that passes without us making significant investment in early childhood development and initiatives that address these issues, millions of kids will be born into the same cycle of poverty and lack of opportunity,” she added.
According to UNICEF, brain development is most intense during early childhood, with nearly 1,000 neural connections happening every second. These early synaptic connections form the basis of a child’s health and wellbeing, including the lifelong capacity to learn, adapt to change, and handle adversity.
Yet nearly one-third of all children under five years of age in lower- and middle-income countries are reportedly growing up in environments and situations that can interfere with this period of rapid growth and development.
Meanwhile, new scientific research shows that the developing brains of young children are as affected by environmental factors as they are by genetics. Inadequate nutrition, lack of stimulation, and toxic stress all can have a negative impact on brain development.
But it also shows that early, cost-effective interventions, such as encouraging breast feeding, or reading and playing with young children, as well as formal early education programmes, all support healthier brain development.
“What this new science is telling us is that literally, early experiences are kind of built into the body,” Dr. Shonkoff explained during a press conference on the issue. “They literally affect the development of the circuits of the brain, they affect the immune system’s development, they affect the development of the cardiovascular system, and so