Letter: First 5 years set development

There is no time like the present to change the future!

We are saddened and dismayed by the horribly tragic deaths in Newtown, Conn. We ask why such random, senseless acts continue to occur amongst our society. The answer is within us, in our biology.

Yes, sadly and factually, children growing up in environments exposed to regular, repeated psychological traumas become hard wired differently from those growing up in less stressful environments. Children reared in such environments are frequently referred to as resilient, tough and able to overcome. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Through decades of scientific research, we know repeated exposure to toxic stress prematurely ages our genes, our DNA. Our bodies have 23 sets of chromosomes containing our genes. Our chromosomes become damaged when frequently exposed to stress. Gene function is permanently impacted. Genes produce biological chemicals that manage our thoughts, heartbeat, blood pressure, hormones and all other human functions.

Think of yourself as a bundle of genes impacted every day by the environment in which you live. Environmental influences trigger genes into action, thus determining your health and your health outcomes.

We have entirely too many children in America repetitively exposed to psychological traumas, such as domestic violence, emotional abuse, physical abuse, divorce, substance use/abuse. Very importantly, this does not occur only to “those children.” This occurs to children from all walks of life. As a civilized society, we must all be responsible for their present and future.

What do we do with the above information? Invest heavily in a society that supports mothers enjoying a healthy pregnancy. Then bathe that wonderful infant brain in as healthy of an environment as humanly possible. Do so for at least the first 1,826 days of life (five years). The first five years of life are the critical period of human development by which we are biologically wired for school success or not. Where does such a society exist? Here if you want it to. It exists in the greater Baton Rouge area in Baton Rouge, Clinton, Convent, Donaldsonville, Greensburg, Livingston, New Roads, Plaquemine and St. Francisville. These are the parish seats of societies in which we live. It is up to each of us to improve our society. It’s time to close the gap between what we know and what we do.

If you are reading this, thank your first teachers, likely your parents. Then give your time to a child that needs you and give your money to organizations that support the first 1,826 days of life. The very survival of our communities (and species) depends on it.

Stewart T. Gordon, M.D.

pediatrician

Baton Rouge