Ryan Chartrand

Patrice Engle, a Cal Poly psychology and child development professor, was one of the lead researchers in a child development study that was published in one of the oldest and most respected peer-reviewed medical journals, The Lancet.

The publication was a three-part series that assessed strategies to prevent the loss of children’s potential in developing countries. The series was launched in London Jan. 25 and Bangladesh this week to bring attention to the new research.

“It was a great achievement in particular because The Lancet is a medical journal, and people who are involved in medical and health sometimes don’t think about the development of the child as part of their role. The fact that we got put into a medical journal is really important because it probably has the biggest circulation internationally of any journal,” Engle said.

The series was broken down into three parts. The first study includes a series of estimates of children who don’t reach their full potential in both social and emotional development. The second documents reasons for the lack of development, such as poverty or poor health. The third, Engle’s paper, recognizes strategies to alleviate the loss of their potential.

“We looked at all the different strategies that might make a difference in children’s development, and we came up with four main interventions,” Engle said. “The first one is making sure the child is well-nourished and not stunted. The second is making sure the child has enough iron. The third is iodine deficiency, and the fourth is the kind of environment in which the child is raised.”

The complexity of the situations in developing countries has made it difficult to find a single solution that can tackle these problems.

“Sometimes we may need a child care center and other times we may need to teach an older sibling how to be more responsive to the child. We have a variety of interventions, and because the right intervention depends on the context, we can’t say ‘this is what you should always do,”” Engle said.

Engle said another problem is that, while our government recognizes the importance of a child’s developing years, a lot of countries don’t yet realize the importance of the early years of a child and therefore don’t spend the time or the money to research them.

Papers written in 2003 and 2004 focused on children’s survival, but not on the fact that children are not developing to their full potential. Also, in many cases, children receive care but don’t receive the kind of learning encouragement that is so important for children’s development.

“One of the reasons we were really excited about doing this was because there’s been a lot of attention on children’s survival, but we thought, ‘it’s not enough to make children survive, they also have to develop’,” Engle said.

Engle, who began teaching at Cal Poly in 1980, was the chief of development and nutrition at UNICEF from 1999-2006 and also worked with world organizations such as the World Bank and the World Health Organization. She took a seven-year leave during her work with UNICEF, and just returned to Cal Poly this year.

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