Baby’s First Years: An Analysis

Jan 30, 2022


The “Baby’s First Years” Study by K. G. Noble, MD, PhD, Et. Al. is a primary research article. I determine this by noting several components of the article. These included: A detailed explanation of how study participants were chosen in this single study. There is no mention of how participants were chosen in any other study. There was no mention of any other study besides this one. There is no mention of if or how multiple articles were chosen, which would be a hallmark of a review article. Details of how data was collected and analyzed was included, as well as how this single study could be used to implement policy.

The study was conducted in order to gain further understanding of how poverty effects child development. Specifically, the study aimed to gather data on the effects of poverty reduction on child development in low-income families. Prior studies showed that unconditional cash transfers to low income mothers had positive effects on children’s school attendance and overall health. Further, poverty has been shown to have wide-reaching effects on nearly all aspects of child development, including on cognitive developmental areas such as language, memory, executive function, and social skills.

This research question is a good example of a bio behavioral research question because it aims to further understand how an environmental factor (income level) could potentially effect physiological and psychological development.

This study was a randomized controlled study in which 1000 low-income mothers were given a monthly cash gift for (initially) 40 months. The participants were randomly chosen to receive either $333 or $20 a month. Confounding factors such method of transfer (debit card) were controlled for. The research group did not under or over sample certain subpopulations such as “first time parents only”. The data was collected based on interviews and surveys that were conducted at the hospital, over the phone, and at a laboratory. Casual pathways were hypothesized: (1) That more income means the families would be able to provide a more enriching environment for the newborn, better preventative medical care, and higher quality care, and (2) That poverty increases stress on the child, the mother, and other family members.

The answer to the question was not discussed in this article. There is no conclusion or analysis paragraph. But, there was a press release dated Jan 24, 2022 from the research team (which can be found at https://www.babysfirstyears.com/press-release) which cites a subsequent correlative study (Troller- Renfree, S. et. al., 2021). This more recent study found that one year of unconditional cash gifts to low income mothers did have an effect on child development. The children whose mothers received the larger cash gift were “more likely” to show improvements in cognitive function.

The study by Troller-Renfree et. al includes heat maps taken of the study participant children’s brains which indicate brain functioning across 4 frequency bands. The study’s hypothesis that children whose mothers received the larger cash gift showed more activity in the higher frequency bands, and reduced activity in the lower frequency bands, a pattern of brain activity which has been associated with improved cognitive function.

One strength of the overall study (both papers published by Noble K.G. et. Al. and by Troller-Renfree et. Al.) was the level of detail to the hypothesis in connection with how family income, cognitive function, and health are intertwined. One weakness of the study is that it was done during the pandemic, which had several impacts on the study results including significantly truncating the sample size and the altering of a majority of the study participants’ normal income in either the positive or negative direction due to either job loss and/or the impact of economic stimulus payments.

References:

Noble, K. G., Magnuson, K., Gennetian, L. A., Duncan, G. J., Yoshikawa, H., Fox, N. A., & Halpern-Meekin, S. (2021). Baby's First Years: Design of a Randomized Controlled Trial of Poverty Reduction in the United States. Pediatrics, 148(4), e2020049702. https://doi-org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/10.1542/peds.2020-049702

Troller- Renfree, S. Et. Al., (2021, Dec 29), The impact of a poverty reduction intervention on infant brain activity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of The United States of America. https://www.pnas.org/content/119/5/e2115649119

Wu, L. L. (2022, January 24). Do cash gifts for mothers in poverty help kids' early brain activity? Medical News | Medpage Today. https://www.medpagetoday.com/pediatrics/generalpediatrics/96831

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