Mike Friedman mikedf at mail.amnh.org
Sat Apr 10 08:27:20 MDT 2004



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 

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: 

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