East Hawaii News

Study Involving Hawai‘i Children: Income Affects Brain Development

March 30, 2015, 3:35 PM HST
* Updated March 30, 3:45 PM
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Hawai‘i families participated in a study that has yielded some insightful and heartbreaking results regarding brain development in children.

Using brain scans of children and adolescents, the study revealed that children’s brains in poorer families are less developed than those from wealthier families in the areas of language, reading, and spatial skills.  Those in lower-income families were found to have smaller brain surfaces and poorer cognitive performance, regardless of race or ethnic background.

The research was conducted by University of Hawai‘i physician-scientist Linda Chang and MR Physicist Thomas Ernst of the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM), in partnership with researchers at the University of California-San Diego.

“Among children from low income families, small differences (increments) in income could lead to larger brain surfaces,” Dr. Chang said. “Larger brain surfaces indicate better brain development which can also be influenced by nutrition, interaction, and engaging children in language, reading and play.”

Brain scans, cognitive assessments, and genetic data were gathered from over 1,400 children, ages three to 20.  In Hawai‘i, 256 children and adolescents participated in brain scans using an MRI scanner at The Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu.


“One conclusion from the study could be that policies related to reducing poverty may have meaningful effects on children’s brain functioning and cognitive development,” Dr. Chang said.


According to the 2013 U.S. Census Data, almost 13% of Hawai‘i children live in poverty.

The study’s results were reported on-line in the journal Nature Neuroscience.  It was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

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