First years of life crucial
“For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in child development. Especially the very first, so-called “embryonic phase”, fascinates me. It remains extraordinary that from the fusion of a sperm cell and an egg cell a new human being can arise. How can nature arrange that so well? But also: why does it sometimes go wrong? In the Erasmus Medical Center, as a pediatrician, I mainly see the children where something has gone wrong in that early development. Young children with visible disorders, but also children with less visible disorders, such as a brain or heart defect. These are often serious conditions that have a great impact on the rest of the child’s life, parents and environment.
The embryonic phase is also followed by a crucial period: the first years of life. Is the child growing up in a loving family? Is it getting enough healthy food? Is the air quality in the environment good, or is there a lot of smoking, for example? In recent years we have followed the development of thousands of children in Rotterdam with a huge group of scientists within the so-called “Generation R” project. Based on this, we know that unfavorable early development increases the risks of health problems such as obesity, and mental or behavioral problems.
Not only in my work as a physician and scientist do I deal with differences in children’s development. Even as a father of young children, I realize how great an influence circumstances have on their development. The town or village where children live, the neighborhood they grow up in, the elementary school they attend. All these factors affect children’s abilities and their opportunities later in life. The question now is what can we do to reduce opportunity inequality among young children as much as possible?”