The Lifelong Effects of Early Childhood Adversity and Toxic Stress

January 17, 2012

Advances in diverse scientific, psychological, and economic fields are catalyzing an important paradigm shift in our understanding of health and disease across the lifespan. This multidisciplinary science of human development has profound implications for our ability to enhance the life prospects of children and to strengthen the social and economic fabric of society.

Drawing on these multiple streams of investigation, this report presents an  framework that illustrates how early experiences and environmental influences can leave a lasting signature on the genetic disorders that affect emerging brain architecture and long-term health.

The report also examines evidence of the disruptive impacts of toxic stress, offering intriguing into causal mechanisms that link early adversity to later impairments in learning, behavior, and both physical and mental well-being.

The report suggests that many adult diseases should be viewed as developmental disorders that begin early in life and that persistent health disparities associated with poverty, discrimination, or maltreatment could be reduced by the alleviation of toxic stress in childhood.

This report also underscores the need for new thinking about the focus and boundaries of pediatric practice, and calls for pediatricians to serve as both front-line guardians of healthy child development and strategically positioned, community leaders to inform new science-based strategies that build strong foundations for educational achievement, economic productivity, responsible citizenship, and lifelong health.