Visit by influential professor of pediatrics and public health

Professor Barry Zuckerman from Boston University visited the University of Stavanger and Norway for the first time last week. He is a recognized expert in child health and development.

Professor Barry Zuckerman

“Norway is wonderful, and the Norwegian attitude of enjoying the outdoors and nature has impressed me,” Professor Barry Zuckerman says sitting in the reception area at Ydalir Hotel.

“The approach about happiness and children playing outside here has struck me as quite remarkable. It is something we need more of in the USA. I think the notion of socio-emotional development and free play is something relatively unique to this country. To see it and hear about it from people during this visit has been illuminating. I have been encouraging Norwegian colleagues that they should share their perspective, philosophy and culture with US colleagues. They need to hear it from you to really understand.”

Making a difference through the health care system

Zuckerman’s career spans more than four decades of taking care of patients, teaching, mentoring and doing research. His research has focused on the effects of maternal health behavior, social environment and genes on newborns and children’s health and development.

“My interest, however, has been more on an innovative sense about promoting children’s early development. I care for low-income children. They have the worst outcome in terms of learning development in the USA compared to upper income children. We have an idea that everything from poverty to trauma in a variety of adverse events such as lack of food and homelessness can affect children’s early development. The question for me has been – what are the little things that the health care system can do to make a difference? I developed four programs for our patients which caught the attention of others and became national programs in the USA, some of them even international. The programs use the health care system to help children get off on the right trajectories,” Zuckerman explains.

On Monday 13 May, Professor Zuckerman gave a lecture on early literacy and its developmental aspects. He talked about what kind of books to read depending on a child’s age, reading strategies, and how reading has an impact on early brain development. In the lecture, he also addressed very early mother-infant interaction and shared some thoughts on how toddlers’ emotions and early learning are intertwined.

View streaming of Professor Barry Zuckerman's lecture

Early literacy and children’s development

Zuckerman is well known for an early childhood literacy program in the USA called Reach Out and Read, which he talked about during his lecture in Stavanger.

“Pediatricians give books to children at each visit to the clinic starting at six months continuing until five years. Ending up with ten books in total. It is important to read with children from an early age as it supports brain development. It is also a good way for parents to engage with their kids. We reach about 5 million children per year through this program,” he says.

 “Pediatricians have direct access to parents and they trust us. Through these national programs, we have a special opportunity to make an impact on children’s well-being, learning development and social-emotional development,” Zuckerman ends.

Text and photo: Linda Berg Kjærås