Study reveals what parents should do to give kids best start in life

Published: 25 September 2017 Image credit: BBC

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The first thousand days of a child’s life are crucial for their development – decisions made during this time can have a knock-on effect, with ramifications lasting for the rest of their lives.

That’s according to a new study conducted by researchers from the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) in Melbourne.

The study, called The First Thousand Days, investigated how young children – from conception to about three-years-old – are affected by a variety of factors, including; biology, their experiences, environment and diet, as well as their parent’s health and lifestyle and the wider community as a whole.

Dr Tim Moore, the report’s lead author, said, “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.”

MCRI Research Group Leader Professor Frank Oberklaid said the report proved that parents need support. 

“Along with loving relationships, children need safe communities, secure housing, access to green spaces, environments free from toxins, and access to affordable, nutritious foods.

“This requires whole-of-society efforts and appropriate investment.”

Similar studies have been conducted overseas, with a focus on families from disadvantaged backgrounds. The effect is just as, if not more, profound in these socio-economic groups.

The Australian research was a collaboration between the Centre for Community Child Health, with research conducted by the MCRI, and produced with the support of the Bupa Health Foundation, PwC and ARACY.

ARACY’s website says, “The purpose of this project is to develop a robust evidential foundation to support strong, well targeted investments in the health and wellbeing of Australia’s children. 

“The project will map and analyse the current gap between evidence and investment in child and maternal health and related expenditure, with the intention to explore the policy implications of these findings, and – as a subsequent phase of the project – the economic implications.”

Dr Moore said, “After 1000 days the different effects on children begins to taper off.”

But don’t despair.

“It’s not the end of the world,” Dr Moore continued, “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.”