4/9/04

ENVIRONMENTAL INEQUITIES CLUSTER TO HARM POOR CHILDREN

Newswise  At least two dozen physical and psychosocial environmental
risk factors can profoundly compromise the health and welfare of
children in low-income families in the United States and could affect
a child's life as an adult, says a noted Cornell University
environmental and developmental psychologist.

"Low-income children are disproportionately exposed to a daunting
array of adverse social and physical environmental conditions," says
Gary Evans, a professor of design and environmental analysis and of
human development in Cornell's College of Human Ecology. "The fact
that so many environmental risk factors cluster in the environments of
low-income children exacerbates their effects and most likely have
debilitating long-term effects on the physical, socio-emotional and
cognitive development of children living in poverty."

Evans is an international expert on how the physical environment --
noise, crowding, housing quality, and air pollution -- can affect
human health and well-being. He reviewed almost 200 studies to
document the environment of childhood poverty in the current issue of
American Psychologist (Vol. 59:2, 77-92, 2004).

Evans details how children in poorer families, compared with children
from more affluent backgrounds, suffer from greater family turmoil,
violence, instability, nonresponsive parenting, smaller social
networks, and few enrichment opportunities. They live, he finds, in
more polluted and crowded environments that are noisier and inferior
in more dangerous neighborhoods with poorer services, more crime and
traffic, and fewer elements of nature. These children also are more
likely to attend schools and day-care facilities that are inadequate;
they tend to read less, have fewer books at home, use libraries less
often, and spend more time watching television than their
middle-income counterparts. "These risk factors aren't randomly
distributed but co-occur much more frequently in the environments of
low-income children," says Evans, noting that researchers typically
look at just one risk factor at a time. "In psychology, we tend to
treat poverty and socioeconomic class as noise in data that needs to
be controlled for. Yet, poverty is such a powerful influence that it
should not be ignored -- it's a dynamic part of the system."

Public policy also tends to consider just one "magic bullet" at a
time, Evans says. Although the health consequences of exposure to one
environmental risk factor, such as poor air, water, or crowding, are
typically modest, the cumulative effect of multiple-risk exposures is
highly significant.

"To make a difference, we need to take a broader perspective for
intervention. When we look at the medical needs of low-income
children, for example, we have to look at their housing. When we
observe problems in their education, we need to also look at their
health and health care to consider how they impact a child's
learning," Evans concludes.

The research was supported, in part, by the W.T. Grant Foundation, the
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Network on Socioeconomic
Status and Health, the National Institute of Child Health and Human
Development, and Cornell's New York State Agricultural Experiment
Station in Geneva, N.Y.

Related World Wide Web sites: The following sites provide additional
information on this news release. Some might not be part of the
Cornell University community, and Cornell has no control over their
content or availability. Gary Evans:
http://www.human.cornell.edu/faculty/facultybio.cfm?netid=gwe1&facs=1
 


Edward Dunbar