How experience gets under the skin to create gradients in developmental health

Annu Rev Public Health. 2010;31:329-47 3p following 347. doi: 10.1146/annurev.publhealth.012809.103538.


Social environments and experiences get under the skin early in life in ways that affect the course of human development. Because most factors associated with early child development are a function of socio-economic status, differences in early child development form a socio-economic gradient. We are now learning how, when, and by what means early experiences influence key biological systems over the long term to produce gradients: a process known as biological embedding. Opportunities for biological embedding are tethered closely to sensitive periods in the development of neural circuitry. Epigenetic regulation is the best example of operating principles relevant to biological embedding. We are now in a position to ask how early childhood environments work together with genetic variation and epigenetic regulation to generate socially partitioned developmental trajectories with impact on health across the life course.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • British Columbia
  • Child
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Humans
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology
  • Social Environment*