Academic Pediatrics, Vol. 16
The effect of child poverty and related early life experiences on adult health outcomes and patterns of aging has become a central focus of child health research and advocacy. In this article a critical review of this proliferating literature and its relevance to child health programs and policy are presented. This literature review focused on evidence of the influence of child poverty on the major contributors to adult morbidity and mortality in the United States, the mechanisms by which these associations operate, and the implications for reforming child health programs and policies. Strong and varied evidence base documents the effect of child poverty and related early life experiences and exposures on the major threats to adult health and healthy aging. Studies using a variety of methodologies, including longitudinal and cross-sectional strategies, have reported significant findings regarding cardiovascular disorders, obesity and diabetes, certain cancers, mental health conditions, osteoporosis and fractures, and possibly dementia. These relationships can operate through alterations in fetal and infant development, stress reactivity and inflammation, the development of adverse health behaviors, the conveyance of child chronic illness into adulthood, and inadequate access to effective interventions in childhood. Although the reviewed studies document meaningful relationships between child poverty and adult outcomes, they also reveal that poverty, experiences, and behaviors in adulthood make important contributions to adult health and aging. There is strong evidence that poverty in childhood contributes significantly to adult health. Changes in the content, financing, and advocacy of current child health programs will be required to address the childhood influences on adult health and disease. Policy reforms that reduce child poverty and mitigate its developmental effects must be integrated into broader initiatives and advocacy that also attend to the health and well-being of adults.