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Fitzgerald Touts Language Nutrition at TEDxAtlanta

May 9, 2014

How do you spread a good idea? Email? Twitter? Television? How about TED?

DPH Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., delivered a TED talk at TEDxAtlanta on the importance of talking with your baby.

TED is a nonprofit dedicated to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less) to large audiences in person and on the Internet. Founded in 1984, TED Talks cover everything from business to health to toy super soakers in hundreds of languages, combining video and live speakers or performers to spark discussion and connection.

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TED also hosts a series of local, self-organized events called TEDx. Last week, Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., was a featured speaker at TEDx Atlanta. 

Fitzgerald joined 11 other speakers in conversation about “Betterness.” She covered an important idea worth spreading: that the simple act of parents regularly talking with their babies can dramatically affect children’s education, health and overall development, factors that greatly impact society as a whole.

“Language is like nutrition for your brain. The more words you hear, the more your brain develops," Fitzgerald said. “If you don’t have language, you can’t progress. Language is the key.”

Fitzgerald described studies documenting the 30 million word gap, a disparity in the number of words a baby hears by the time the child is 3 years old. Researchers noticed the gap is linked to socioeconomic differences: children from low-income families heard about 616 words per hour, while those from working class families heard around 1,251 words per hour and those from professional families heard roughly 2,153 words per hour. 

To illustrate how a baby reacts to hearing words, Fitzgerald used a video of the Still Face Experiment by Edward Tronick, Ph.D., director of the Child Development Unit at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. The audience saw how frustrating it was for a baby when his mother looked at him but didn’t speak or register any emotion on her face.

Fitzgerald also described how this kind of research was used to inform a new campaign in Georgia promoting language nutrition with an eye toward improving 3rd-grade reading levels in the state.

TEDx Atlanta will host its next event in April 2015. For more information about TED or TEDxAtlanta, visit or To watch Fitzgerald’s TED talk, visit the TEDx Atlanta website

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