Imagine if we could treat high blood pressure, hypertension and diabetes before those illnesses even showed up in adults.
Child care may have that power.
New research shows that children who attended a child care program that ranks among the best in the nation, Abecedarian, were less likely to have high blood pressure, hypertension and obesity as adults. In fact, no male alumni in the study had metabolic syndrome, according to a story in Science about the research, produced by a group that includes Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman. A quarter of the men in the study’s control group had this condition.
This research is potentially groundbreaking for multiple reasons. First, it’s evidence that a population — poor families — that struggles with seemingly intractable health issues can be helped.
The new study is “extremely solid,” and suggests that it is possible to prevent conditions such as obesity and heart disease in the poor, a population that has long been thought “impossible to reach,” says David Rehkopf, a social epidemiologist at Stanford University in California.
—“Intensive Day Care May Improve Long-Term Health of Poor Children.” Science, 3/27/14.
It also highlights early education’s performance on the ultimate test of education: the health and success of students once they are adults. In the world of early learning, educators, researchers and policymakers often correctly focus on fourth-grade test scores and school readiness. But, long-term benefits are the final exam. This research adds to a growing and critical body of research — think of findings about Chicago’s Child-Parent Centers — on how investing in early education can pay big dividends 10, 20 and 30 years later.
Despite spending more on health care than other countries, the United States has poorer health outcomes than other nations that spend less, [says Nancy Adler, a psychiatrist at UC San Francisco and an expert on how socioeconomic status influences health]. One reason for that may be that the United States underinvests in social services, especially during early childhood, and that we’re “paying the price later on” in consumption of health care services, she says.
In this case, there is what I call the gold-standard effect. Researchers studied the impact of Abecedarian, an expensive and model program. But, this research suggests that educators can take the health-care elements of Abecedarian — opportunities for regular checkups, daily screenings and two meals a day plus a snack — and implement those in more affordable programs.
Update on Home Visiting Funding
Speaking of investments that pay long-term dividends, Congress approved six months of federal funding for home visiting, the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program, this week.
“Today’s legislation will ensure that funding for voluntary federal home visiting programs, currently set to expire at the end of September, will continue through March 2015. Without this action, thousands of community-based programs would be forced to close, affecting families in need and staff across the country,” First Five Years Fund’s Kris Perry said in a statement.