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New Early Childhood Development Report from the New York Academy of Sciences

Provides Recommendations for Creating Family-Friendly Programs to Help Prevent Stress in Urban Environments

Published March 16, 2017

NEW YORK, March 15, 2017 – By 2050 more than 70 percent of the world’s children will be living in cities. This means that nearly three-quarters of the world’s population will grow and develop in population-dense environments where adverse conditions such as “toxic stress”, poverty and poor nutrition, can have lifelong consequences on developing brains.

With an eye to these challenges, a number of cities around the world are now working to strengthen their maternal health, nutrition and parenting programs, to create family centers and improve the child-friendliness of their social services, justice systems and public spaces. The New York Academy of Sciences created the Global Compact for Early Childhood Development to support civic leaders in this effort, and today released a report highlighting outcomes from a recent meeting.

Cities, Science and Nurturing Care” is a summary of a meeting of 75 civic leaders and Early Childhood Development (ECD) experts who recently gathered at the New York Academy of Sciences to prioritize the needs of children and their families. Participants included delegations from 13 “early adopter cities” in Asia, Europe, North and South America. They agreed to work together to develop new approaches and standards for child-friendly cities, with the goal of ultimately improving the lives of millions of urban children, their families and communities.

The new report presents the initial consensus on how:

  • Cities can play a major role in promoting good health and nutrition, nurturing by caregivers, stimulating play and safe environments – all of which have powerful positive and protective effects on young children’s social, emotional and cognitive development.

  • Successful programs require local partnerships among parents, communities, governments, businesses and non-profits, “bundling” services across sectors that are more typically implemented as silos.

  • ECD interventions must begin with women of childbearing age because 40% of the world’s pregnancies are unplanned.

  • High risk mothers are often leery of ECD services out of fear that their children may be taken away. ECD workers must be trained to respect the family and beliefs of the local community, and to treat both parents – not just mothers – as experts on their own children.

  • While occasional stress is actually beneficial in causing short-term spikes in cortisol that enhance a child’s resilience, constant stress is “toxic” to healthy brain connectivity, diminishing the ability to respond appropriately to future stresses throughout life.

“If we want all children to thrive, we need to recognize urbanization as a major new wave of history,” said the paper’s co-author Charles A. Gardner, Ph.D., ECD Program Manager in the Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science at the New York Academy of Sciences. “The Global Compact for Early Childhood Development promotes innovation and knowledge-sharing among far-sighted civic leaders and experts to ensure that cities’ youngest citizens can reach their full potential.”

About the New York Academy of Sciences

The New York Academy of Sciences is an independent, not-for-profit organization that since 1817 has been committed to advancing science, technology, and society worldwide. With 25,000 members around the world, the Academy is creating a global community of science for the benefit of humanity. The Academy's core mission is to advance scientific knowledge, positively impact the major global challenges of society with science-based solutions, and increase the number of scientifically informed individuals in society at large. Please visit us online at