Poverty and socio-economic disparity are among the greatest obstacles facing South Africans. About 63% of children younger than six live in poverty. The country is also experiencing increasing levels of unemployment. In addition there’s a high prevalence of femicide and inter-partner violence which is often associated with excessive alcohol consumption and substance abuse.
Harsh socio-environmental factors, especially when they happen in the early years of a child’s life, can establish a developmental ‘biology of misfortune’. This involves neurobiological and epigenetic processes that go on to steer a person’s life towards poor health, unrealised potential and a shorter life.
Neurobiology here refers to normal brain development. This is, at times, controlled by epigenetic mechanisms. These are biological reactions involving certain proteins that interact with DNA, physically altering its structure. Epigenetics can be influenced by our physical environment and surroundings. Adverse environments can profoundly alter gene expression and have detrimental health effects including disturbed brain development.
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