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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: May 2011

9 - Bringing a Population Health Perspective to Early Biodevelopment: An Emerging Approach


This chapter describes the rationale for population-based monitoring of early child development (ECD); outlines our achievements to date in producing such ECD data for a large population (the kindergarten children of British Columbia, Canada); and shows how this work can support biodevelopmental research regarding the extent to which social gradients in brain and biological development are explained by experience “getting under the skin.”


Inequalities in child development emerge in a systematic fashion over the first five years of life, according to well-recognized factors: family income, parental education, parenting style, neighborhood safety and cohesion, neighborhood socioeconomic status, and access to quality childcare and other developmental opportunities. Three broad domains of ECD are of special relevance: physical, social/emotional, and language/cognitive. By age 5, as one goes from the families with the lowest to highest incomes, least to most parental education, and least to most nurturing and interactive parenting style, the average quality of early child experiences gradually increases and produces a gradient in child development (Hertzman et al., 2002). For example, data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth from the late 1990s (Willms, 2002) showed a gradient in the risk of receptive language delay, increasing gradually from the children in the highest income decile of Canadian families (5.2 percent delayed) to the poorest decile (approximately 26 percent delayed).

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