Researchers seek to improve understanding of the relationships between child brain development, nutrition, and inflammation

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International experts have identified research needed to better understand relationships between child brain development, nutrition, and inflammation, particularly for children living in poverty. Their work, the culmination of a workshop convened by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), was summarized in a supplement to the April 2017 edition of Pediatrics.

Held at the National Institutes of Health, the workshop was organized by the NICHD Office of Global Health, in close collaboration with several NICHD divisions and branches. According to the supplement, children living in poverty are at higher risk for poor nutrition and inflammation, which can increase susceptibility to infectious and non-communicable diseases, as well as developmental deficits and delays. Children born and raised in poverty can be at higher risk for poor health and developmental outcomes throughout their lives.

A recent analysis External Web Site Policy estimated that, in 2010, 81 million children ages 3 and 4 years in low- and middle-income countries experienced low cognitive and/or socioemotional development. Early childhood is a key time to counteract adverse exposures that can threaten the integrity of the neural, neuroendocrine, and immune systems, with potentially lifelong and intergenerational effects.

Similarly, global public health officials and leaders have emphasized the ongoing need to further reduce the number of child deaths, while simultaneously scaling up efforts to improve the health and well-being of all children. The newly developed United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2015-2030 further reinforce that human development is essential for sustainable global development. Toward this end, the promotion and enhancement of child brain development from pre-pregnancy through adolescence, has been identified as a public health priority by experts and organizations around the globe.

However, research to accomplish these goals is lacking, particularly on assessment, risk, and protective factors. Panelists from the NICHD workshop authored several articles in a Pediatrics supplement that outlined key research initiatives, including the following:

  • An integrated approach to determine how nutritional and inflammatory status, independently and in relationship with each other, affect brain and other development from pre-pregnancy through adolescence.
  • Development of standardized norms for neurodevelopment and new tools for assessment and monitoring of various influences on child brain development, including more precise biomarkers
  • Exploring the impact of emerging and growing research areas—such as the microbiome, epigenetic mechanisms, and the role of sleep—on child nutrition, inflammation, and brain development.

Finally, researchers stressed the importance of considering not only risk factors, but also resiliency and protective factors and interventions that may be effective in increasing these positive exposures for pregnant women, infants, children, and adolescents living with limited resources.


Kutlesic V, Brewinski Isaacs M, Freund L, Hazra R, Raiten D, eds. Research Gaps at the Intersection of Pediatric Neurodevelopment, Nutrition, and Inflammation in Low-Resource Settings. Pediatrics. 2017;139(suppl 1).


About the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD): NICHD conducts and supports research in the United States and throughout the world on fetal, infant and child development; maternal, child and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation. For more information, visit NICHD's website.

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