The Brains of Babes, Part 1 - 3 (Listen)

(Photo: Liz Nagy/CBC)

(Photo: Liz Nagy/CBC)

The centuries-old Jesuit saying, "give me a child until he's 7 and I will show you the man", may be true in more ways than the Jesuits could have imagined. New research into brain development, human biology and behaviour is showing how early experience can affect our health and well-being for the rest of our lives. As Jill Eisen reports, even so-called "life-style" illnesses, like heart disease and diabetes, may have their roots in early childhood.

Episode 1 - Broadcast November 13, 2009

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One of the curious facts about health is a phenomenon called the social gradient. In every country that's been studied, and for every disease and disorder, there's a gradient so that the poorer you are or the lower you are in any social hierarchy, the less healthy you are. And this is true even after if you take things like smoking, diet and exercise into account. Stress in adult life has been pinpointed as one of the contributing factors. But it alone hasn't been enough to explain this phenomenon. In this first program of a series, Jill Eisen talks to researchers who are going back to our beginnings and finding important links between our earliest years and our health as adults.

Episode 2 - Broadcast November 20, 2009

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harry-harlow.jpgIn the 1950's and 60's psychologist Harry Harlow conducted a series of experiments with monkeys which were to have a profound influence on our ideas about early childhood. He removed monkeys from their mothers at birth and gave them access to either a wire surrogate mother with a nipple for nursing or a cloth surrogate that was soft but had no opportunity for nursing. Harry Harlow's experiments demonstrated without a doubt the importance of early experience in shaping both biology and behaviour. His work was a milestone in the nature/nurture debate and tipped the balance toward nurture. But the debate raged on, and with the advent of the human genome project, the balance shifted again toward nature. Jill Eisen talks to scientists Steve Suomi, Michael Meaney, and Tom Boyce, who say the old debate is obsolete. They claim it's neither nature nor nurture, but nature and nurture interacting to shape us in the early years.

Episode 3 - Broadcast November 27, 2009

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In December of 2008 the United Nations' Children's Fund, Unicef, released a report card documenting how well the richest 25 countries were doing in supporting early child development. Canada tied with Ireland for last place. We were behind such countries as the Republic of Korea, Slovenia, Portugal, Mexico, the United States and of course, the all Nordic countries. Of 10 benchmarks considered crucial for healthy child development, Canada reached only one. When it comes to investing in the early years, Canada's showing is dismal. We're one of the most affluent industrialized countries but our governments invest only about 0.2 per cent of our GDP in services for young children. That's well behind the benchmark of 1%. Jill Eisen explores why it matters.



Barker, David, Nutrition in the Womb: How Better Nutrition during development will prevent heart disease, diabetes and stroke. 2008.

Gluckman, Peter, and Hanson, Mark. Developmental Origins of Health and Disease. Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Marmot, Michael, The Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects Our Health and Longevity, Henry Holt and Company, 2004.

Mate, Gabor, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction. Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

McCain, Margaret and Mustard, Fraser.
Early Years Study, Final Report from 1999, pdf file.

McCain, Margaret
, Mustard, Fraser, Stuart Shanker.
Early Years Study 2 Putting Science Into Action, from 2007, pdf file .

Perry, Bruce and Maia Szalavitz, The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories From a Child Psychiatrist's Notebook. Basic Books, 2007.

Dennis Raphael, Social Determinants of Health: Canadian Perspectives. Canadian Scholars Press; 2 edition (January 2009).

Shonkoff, Jack and Phillips, Deborah, From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Child Development. National Academies Press; (November 2000).

Siegel, Daniel and Hartzell, Mary, Parenting from the Inside Out. Tarcher Press, 2004.

Siegel, Daniel, The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. The Guilford Press, 2001.

Related Websites

The Barker Theory. Dr. David Barker's web site about the links between foetal and early childhood growth and adult disease.

The Carolina ABECEDARIAN Project. A longitudinal study of the impacts of quality early child education.

Best Start: Ontario's Maternal Newborn and Early Child Development Resource Centre supports service providers across the province of Ontario who are working on health promotion projects to improve the health of expectant parents and their young children. The Centre provides workshops and conferences, resources, consultations, and subject-specific information.

Childcare Resource and Research Unit. The Childcare Resource and Research Unit (CRRU) focuses on research and policy resources in the context of a high quality system of early childhood education and child care in Canada.

The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (NSCDC) is a multi-disciplinary collaboration comprising leading scholars in neuroscience, early childhood development, pediatrics, and economics.

Harvard University Center on the Developing Child

Human Early Learning Partnership, University of British Columbia.

A Toronto-based Centre for Parenting Resources and Training.

ZERO TO THREE is a Washington-based nonprofit organization that informs, trains and supports professionals, policymakers and parents in their efforts to improve the lives of infants and toddlers.

The Council for Early Child Development

Consultative Group on Early Childhood Care and Development

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