Integrating Health Care Strategies to Prevent Poverty-Related Disparities in Development and Growth: Addressing Core Outcomes of Early Childhood

Rachel S. Gross, Mary Jo Messito, Perri Klass, Caitlin F. Canfield, H. Shonna Yin, Pamela A. Morris, Daniel S. Shaw, Benard P. Dreyer, Alan L. Mendelsohn

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Poverty-related disparities appear early in life in cognitive, language, and social-emotional development, and in growth, especially obesity, and have long-term consequences across the life course. It is essential to develop effective strategies to promote healthy behaviors in pregnancy and the early years of parenthood that can mitigate disparities. Primary preventive interventions within the pediatric primary care setting offer universal access, high engagement, and population-level impact at low cost. While many families in poverty or with low income would benefit from preventive services related to both development and growth, most successful interventions have tended to focus on only one of these domains. In this manuscript, we suggest that it may be possible to address both development and growth simultaneously and effectively. In particular, current theoretical models suggest alignment in mechanisms by which poverty can create barriers to parent-child early relational health (i.e., parenting practices, creating structure, and parent-child relationship quality), constituting a final common pathway for both domains. Based on these models and related empirical data, we propose a strength-based, whole child approach to target common antecedents through positive parenting and prevent disparities in both development and growth; we believe this approach has the potential to transform policy and practice. Achieving these goals will require new payment systems that make scaling of primary prevention in health care feasible, research funding to assess efficacy/effectiveness and inform implementation, and collaboration among early childhood stakeholders, including clinicians across specialties, scientists across academic disciplines, and policy makers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S161-S168
JournalAcademic Pediatrics
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 1 2021


  • child development
  • child obesity
  • disparities
  • poverty
  • primary prevention
  • Parenting
  • Poverty
  • Humans
  • Child, Preschool
  • Pregnancy
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Female
  • Child Development
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Child

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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