Early Childhood

Early-Childhood Program Led to Improved Health Later in Life, Study Says

By Julie Blair — March 28, 2014 2 min read
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Disadvantaged children who attended high-quality early-childhood education programs that included health components had substantially better health in their mid-30s, a new report states.

Those who attended the Carolina Abecedarian Program, a project of the FPG Child Development Institute of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, were found to have a much lower prevalence of risk factors for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases like stroke and diabetes when compared with those who did participate, according to the report headlined “Abecedarian & Health” which was published March 27 in the journal Science by Frances Campbell, Gabriella Conti, James J. Heckman, Seong Hyeok Moon, Rodrigo Pinto, Liz Pungello, and Yi Pan.

“Prior to this research, we had indications that quality early-childhood development programs helped produce better health later in life,” Heckman said, in a statement. “Abecedarian shows that investing in early-learning programs that offer health components can boost education, health, and economic outcomes. It also offers a different way to fight costly adult chronic diseases: investing early in the development of children to build the knowledge and self-regulation necessary to prevent chronic disease and help them lead healthy, productive lives.”

The early-childhood program was unique in that it offered cognitive and socio-emotional stimulation as well as health screenings, the study states. In addition, participants received two meals and an afternoon snack as well as periodic medical check-ups.

Disadvantaged children entered the program in infancy and continued until age 5; researchers followed the cohort for 30 years to determine whether or not developmental delays could be prevented, the study states.

This is the first time participants’ health has been analyzed.

Among the report’s findings:

• Men in the treatment group have lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure and were less likely to develop stage I hypertension.

• Men in the treatment group have significantly higher levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and fewer factors which often lead to the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

• Women in the treatment group were less likely to be affected by abdominal obesity and less likely to develop pre-hypertension.

• Both men and women were at significantly lower risk than their non-participating peers for coronary heart disease.

• Women in the treatment group were significantly less likely to start drinking before age 17, were more likely to engage in physical activity and more likely to eat nutritious food than control-group peers.

• Men who participated as children delayed the onset of smoking and marijuana use.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.