Children’s experiences during the first 1,000 days lay the foundations for their whole future, a new report has found.
From preconception to age two, every aspect of a child’s world – including their parents’ and carers’ income, housing, neighbourhoods, social relationships, age and ethnic group – is already shaping their adult life.
In her latest report, Croydon’s Director for Public Health Rachel Flowers puts a spotlight on the first 1,000 days of a child’s life to demonstrate the effect early experiences can have. She focuses on how Adverse Childhood Experiences can negatively impact on children as they grow up. Stressful and disruptive childhoods are significantly more likely to lead to health-harming and anti-social behaviours, performing poorly in school or being involved in crime. However, Ms Flowers emphasises that a trusted adult and other factors can help give children the resilience to thrive despite these challenging experiences.
Each of the 6,000 babies born in Croydon each year therefore represents past, present and future health, which is a key reason for a focus on health before pregnancy and the first 1,000 days. A baby’s development in the womb is dependent not just on the mother’s diet during pregnancy, but also on the stored nutrients and fats throughout her lifetime.
In 2015, almost one-fifth of Croydon’s children lived in poverty. This means more than a 1,000 babies born each year in Croydon may be touched by the effects of poverty during their early years. Girls born in more affluent areas of Croydon are expected to live six years more than their peers in other areas and for boys, the difference is over nine years.
Brain development starts just after conception and continues at a rapid pace through the first years of life when our brains grow the fastest. Talking, playing and singing are all simple activities that help make vital connections between brain cells. Stimulating environments and positive relationships with carers are critical in these first two years.
Rachel Flowers said: “These first 1,000 days for a child are fundamentally important because they lay the foundations for the rest of their lives. By prioritising health before pregnancy and increasing our understanding about what being healthy for pregnancy means, we can ensure that parents and communities are in the best possible position to bring Croydon’s children into the world.
A healthy start in life gives each child an equal chance to thrive and grow into an adult who makes a positive contribution to the community. It is well documented that inequalities result in poor health, social, educational and economic outcomes across the whole of the life course and across generations. We all have a role to play in improving their transition from childhood to adolescence and into adult life and breaking cycles of inequalities where they exist.”