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Early childhood education programs help children grow up to be healthier adults

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Analysis of long term NIH-funded study shows health benefits more than 30 years later

Statement of Alan E. Guttmacher, M.D., Director, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health on “Early Childhood Investments Substantially Boost Adult Health,” Science, March 28, 2014.

Once again, research has shown that an investment in our nation’s children not only recovers the initial expense but pays dividends well into the future. A study appearing in Science shows that children who attended a comprehensive, high quality infancy and early childhood development and education program are more likely to become healthier adults than those who haven’t had the benefit of such a program. The study, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, was conducted with data obtained from the Abecedarian program, also supported by the NIH, which was created to determine whether an early intervention program for children born into poverty could promote healthy growth and development. The children in the program were cared for by knowledgeable staff, received nutritious meals, pediatric care, and learning opportunities designed to promote school readiness. The children’s parents were offered home visits from study staff, who provided instruction in child development and in how to promote school readiness skills. Many studies have since shown the Abecedarian program and other, high quality, programs like it to be resounding successes. When compared to peers who did not receive quality interventional services, graduates of the programs were less likely to be involved in crime, more likely to stay in school, and more likely to have higher earnings as adults. Now, the study in Science by Campbell, Heckman, and their colleagues showed that graduates of the Abecedarian program also were more likely to become healthier adults. Compared to their peers, men had higher levels of HDL, or good, cholesterol, and were less likely to have metabolic syndrome (the concurrence of high blood pressure, abdominal obesity, and high cholesterol levels that increases the risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes). Similarly, women were less likely to have abdominal obesity and to develop pre-hypertension. The United States is currently battling an obesity epidemic. The results of this study demonstrate yet another benefit of early childhood intervention programs and suggest a potential strategy for combatting obesity among future generations.

Originally posted: March 28, 2014

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