Two-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds are three times more likely to develop difficulties with language than those from more affluent areas, according to a new Scottish study published in the journal JAMA Network Open.
Researchers say the findings highlight the need for policy makers to address the social factors that can hinder speech, language and communication (SLC) development.
Failing to do so means children might not fully develop the language skills necessary for emotional development, wellbeing and educational and employment opportunities.
“Growing up in a disadvantaged neighbourhood where there is poverty and reduced access to services is closely associated with problems with preschool language development,” said Professor James Boardman of Neonatal Medicine at the University of Edinburgh’s MRC Centre for Reproductive Health.
“These results suggest that policies designed to lessen deprivation could reduce language and communication difficulties among pre-school children.”
For the study, a research team from the University of Edinburgh and NHS Lothian in Scotland looked at more than 26,000 records of children who had received a routine health review between 27 and 30 months between April 2013 and April 2016.
The findings show that two-year-olds living in the most economically deprived neighborhoods were three times more likely to have SLC concerns compared to those brought up in better-off areas.
It is believed that growing up in neighborhoods with low income and unemployment — which is related to problems with education, health, access to services, crime and housing — can increase the risk of setbacks.
The researchers also discovered that being born prematurely had an impact on language issues. The findings show that each week a child spent in the womb from 23 to 36 weeks was associated with an 8.8% reduction in the likelihood of the children having an SLC concern reported at 27 months.
A pregnancy is considered full term between 39 weeks and 40 weeks, 6 days, while preterm birth is defined as delivery before 37 weeks of gestation. Socioeconomic disadvantage has also been associated with a greater risk for preterm birth.
Although the research team looked at birth data from children born in the Lothians, experts say similar results might be expected across the United Kingdom.
Source: University of Edinburgh