What’s your cortisol level?

Here in North Carolina, we have high stakes testing beginning in third grade. If you don’t pass the End of Grade test (EOG), you might not go on to the next grade.

We dread this time in my house. Despite the fact that she is incredibly smart with nothing to worry about, my daughter falls apart the week leading up to and the week of the EOGs. This year, she even created the Evil EOG man. She drew him everywhere and showed him failing kids. Clearly, she’s stressed.

Thankfully, she doesn’t know the kind of stress (from enduring abuse or witnessing violence) that too many kids experience. Stress, that research suggests affects not only a child’s future mental health, but their physical health as well.

According to Dr. Jack Shonkoff, a professor of child health and development at Harvard, the incidence of heart disease, diabetes and cancer increases based on high levels of childhood stress. He said that stress hormones, like cortisol, disrupt a child’s brain development.

He also noted that genetics played a factor. This got me wondering if kids that are programmed to react more intensely to the normal ups and downs of life also are at greater risk. Given the demands many parents and schools place on children, maybe we should be routinely checking cortisol levels in children.

Dr. Shonkoff’s presentation was part of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission hearing investigating how factors outside the health care system – such as education and housing – shape and affect opportunities to lead healthy lives.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America: www.commissiononhealth.org/

News and Observer Article about the hearing: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/story/1106522.html

Families Featured by the Commission: http://www.fpg.unc.edu/news/highlight_detail.cfm?ID=784

Also, check out PRMom in the following blogs:

Zooglobble: www.zooglobble.com

Simple Songs: simplesongs.blogs.com/

Bay Kids Museum: www.baykidsmuseum.org/blog/

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Filed under FPG Child Development Institute, parenting, research

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