24/07/21 – Peer-to-Peer Touch: The New “School Milk” – Francis McGlone writes

Peer-to-Peer Touch: The New School Milk

The Provision of Free Milk Regulations in 1946 provided milk to all school children to give them an extra nutritional boost, recognising that children’s physical health was at risk due to inequalities in food resources following WW-II.  Now, in 2021 as we enter a post-pandemic era it is children’s mental health that is at risk and there is an equally simple and free solution to do for the developing brain what milk did for the developing body.

Ground-breaking insights from neuroscientific research has discovered a population of gentle-touch sensitive nerves in the skin (called c-tactile afferents- CT) that have a direct line to the brain’s stress regulatory systems where they help, amongst many other things, build resilience to stress.  These are not the same touch nerves that tell us, for example, that a fly has landed on or nose, that is the fast-touch system dealing with the here-and-now of our tactile world. CT nerves send signals to the brain more slowly and regulate our emotional and wellbeing states. What our research has shown is that CTs are exquisitely evolved for their role in promoting the pleasure we derive from gentle touch – when stimulated with a gentle massaging touch they release oxytocin and endorphins in the brain, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and induce as state of relaxation by activating the parasympathetic nervous system.

Our research has shown that just 10 mins/day of stroking touch over a 2-week period protects against the negative effects of chronic stress, as measured by the canonical stress marker cortisol. We have recently carried out a study in Liverpool primary schools where a group of Yr. 6 children received ~10 minutes of massaging touch on their back and shoulders from a confederate, which was then reciprocated, following a ‘peer-to-peer touch protocol’ based on the pioneering work of Jean Barlow, but here designed to target the known response properties of CTs. This daily procedure inures the children to stress as well as providing all the benefits listed above and needs to become an integral part of our children’s lives at school, as free milk did.

Its proven impact on brain development, mental health and social behaviour is now a matter of neuroscientific fact and as this government is so keen on following the science it should now follow the neuroscience. This is not an arbitrary choice.   

You can read more about this in the APPG’s report: download here.