Toxic stress and the vicious cycle of poverty in South Africa

Biological embedding of early childhood adversity

This research paper describes how the stress on families and caregivers living in poverty, becomes embedded in the bodies, brains and minds of South African children, with dire social consequences.

The paper discusses the way in which the environment interacts with a young child’s genes to shape their expression. Enduring stress to the child during the first 1000 days of life is particularly damaging, leaving its mark for life. The critical importance of adequate care in this period, and of interventions that support caregivers, is emphasised.

Written by Dr Barak Morgan, MRC/UCT Medical Imaging Research Unit, Department of Human Biology, University of Cape Town & Department of Psychiatry, Stellenbosch University. Published by Ilifa in November 2013.