Head start is best for first 1000 days

Research News
Published: 
Monday, September 25, 2017 - 10:45am
A new evidence paper has highlighted the astonishing rates of child development from conception to the end of age two and the benefit of a holistic approach to children’s health.

The First Thousand Days has shown children are affected in multiple ways, including through biology, their experiences, environment and diet, their parent’s health and lifestyle during pregnancy, and the broader community.

Some of the many key findings discovered how the foetus uses ‘cues’ provided by their mother’s physical and mental states to ‘predict’ the kind of world they will be born into, and how to adapt accordingly.

First Thousand Days lead author Dr Tim Moore said this adaptation can be either beneficial or detrimental, depending on the child’s relationships and environments.

“Children need to feel calm, safe and protected. When this attachment process is interrupted, the child’s brain places an emphasis on developing neuronal pathways that are associated with survival, before developing those that are essential to future learning and growth.”

The report stresses the importance of children’s development beyond the brain to all bodily structures including the immune, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems.

Disadvantage can also be passed down through the generations at a cellular level, with biology changing in response to stress, poverty and other prolonged adverse experiences. These changes can be passed on to children from their parents and grandparents. Children can only develop as well as their families, communities and broader society enable them.

MCRI Research Group Leader in Policy, Equity and Translation Professor Frank Oberklaid said the evidence paper highlights that parents cannot raise healthy, happy children on their own.

"Along with loving relationships, children need safe communities, secure housing, access to green spaces, environments free from toxins, and access to affordable, nutritious foods," Professor Oberklaid said. "This requires whole-of-society efforts and appropriate investment."

While the paper stressed that the ability to alter and change the impacts of negative experiences in the first thousand days becomes more difficult as a child gets older, it is certainly not impossible to make improvements as children grow and develop.

“After 1000 days the different effects on children begins to taper off,” Dr Moore said “It’s not the end of the world, it just becomes harder to change. We don’t want parents to feel like ‘what have I done’, it’s about encouraging everyone to think about the importance of this time period, and how the whole of society should consider this responsibility.”

The report was prepared by the Centre for Community Child Health with researchers from the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI), and produced with the support of the Bupa Health Foundation, PwC and ARACY.

Bupa Health Foundation Executive Leader Annette Schmiede said to meet the future challenges of healthcare needs for Australians, emphasis had to be put on children.

"They are the future," Ms Schmiede said. “The Bupa Health Foundation took no convincing to fund the First Thousand Days study as we have a long held interest and commitment to the importance of good health on a child’s quality of life. We believe that strong foundations in childhood leads to healthier, happier adult lives.”

Researchers are continuing to see what else is determined in the first thousand days to provide further support and interventions to make sure children are safe and secure.