Parents and adults working with vulnerable young children and babies must be better equipped to shield the youngsters from “toxic stress” and other adversities that can contribute to the development of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other diseases later in life, Jack P. Shonkoff, Julius B. Richmond FAMRI professor of child health and development and director, Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, told a national gathering convened by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Commission to Build a Healthier America in Washington, D.C., on June 19, 2013.

“Science suggests if we want to have a breakthrough impact on children, we have to transform the lives of adults who take care of them,” Shonkoff said. “Children and their health are shaped by the people around them. Adults have to be prepared to buffer children from stress in their lives – to help children learn to be resilient and overcome adversity.” Many adults may need help developing their skills so they can hold jobs, and have less stressful homes for their children, he said.

The commission called the public meeting to hear testimony from leading experts on how best to support health in communities and during early childhood as a follow-up to its 2009 recommendations. Commissioners include Katherine Baicker, professor of health economics at HSPH, and Sheila Burke of Harvard Kennedy School.

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