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Brick homes and rural holidays make poorer children resilient, study finds

A new local study shows that where you live matters and may either negatively or positively benefit your health and wellbeing.
A new local study shows that where you live matters and may either negatively or positively benefit your health and wellbeing.
Image: Antonio Muchave

Where you live matters for your health and wellbeing. And taking a break from city life to spend time in a rural setting is vital, a new study suggests.

According to the research by the University of California and Stellenbosch University, in the Cape Town communities of Khayelitsha, Gugulethu and Mfuleni, living in formal housing and having food security are linked to positive developmental outcomes and resilience among children, compared to living in informal settlements.

Resilient children were identified based on consistently meeting global standards for growth, cognitive functioning and behaviour.

Community infrastructure, maternal risks, and caretaking behaviours were examined based on neighbourhood as predictors of childhood resilience.

Researchers followed mothers of young children living in the three townships, and assessed both protective and risk factors associated with living in different neighbourhoods.

They observed that the rate of resilient children varied significantly. Mothers living in high-prevalence neighbourhoods with established housing, food security and sanitation had more resilient children compared to those in low-prevalence neighbourhoods.

Mothers living in high-prevalence neighbourhoods were older and more likely to be living with three or more people in formal housing with access to water and electricity.

Resilient children had more food security and were less likely to have mothers with depression.

Migration to rural areas in the Eastern Cape, which was associated with better outcomes in this study, occurred more frequently among resilient children.

Within the high-prevalence neighbourhood only, mothers of resilient children had lower income yet experienced less food insecurity compared to mothers of non-resilient children.

Joan Christodoulou says new research findings suggest formal housing and access to electricity and water may serve as protective factors for children in townships.
Joan Christodoulou says new research findings suggest formal housing and access to electricity and water may serve as protective factors for children in townships.
Image: Supplied

Resilient children had significantly higher growth, cognitive and motor scores as well as fewer behavioural problems than non-resilient children

Writing in the journal Preventive Medicine, lead researcher Joan Christodoulou said the findings suggest formal housing and access to electricity and water may serve as protective factors for children growing up in contexts of widespread poverty.

“Further, these neighbourhood characteristics may also be important in supporting children’s cognitive and behavioural development, in addition to their physical health,” she said. 

She said an unexpected finding is that significantly more resilient children move to the Eastern Cape with their mothers than non-resilient children.

Existing research suggests that black people living in urban areas mostly preferred rural areas over urban settings to raise children.

“This suggests that leaving Cape Town for the deeply rural areas in the Eastern Cape may be protective for mothers and their children,” said Christodoulou, from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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