heckmanWe know that quality early childhood programs can prevent crime and lead to higher graduation rates and future earnings, but now new research shows they can also prevent chronic disease and improve adult physical health.

Professor James Heckman, a Nobel Laureate in economics and long-time advocate for greater investment in early childhood programs, published the research after reviewing the 40-year-old Abecedarian preschool program, one of the oldest early intervention programs in the country.

In the Abecedarian preschool study, two groups of low-income children birth to age five were tracked: one who received services and the other who did not. Services included stimulating early learning experiences from birth, full-time preschool, meals, and periodic medical check-ups and screenings.

Professor Heckman found that children who participated in Abecedarian became much healthier adults compared to the control group.  For example, men who participated in Abecedarian had:

  • Lower blood pressure and hypertension
  • Lower rates of obesity
  • Higher levels of “good” HDL cholesterol
  • No signs of developing metabolic syndrome, the group of risk factors that can lead to heart disease, diabetes or stroke

Women who received preschool services were less likely to suffer from pre-hypertension and obesity and more likely to engage in healthful habits such as regular physical activity and more nutritious eating habits.

While other studies have shown the negative impact adverse childhood experiences have on later health, Professor Heckman’s new research points to a possible solution: more investments in quality early childhood programs.

From Professor Heckman’s article:

“We now have evidence that quality programs can be used to prevent costly chronic diseases, increase productivity, and potentially reduce health spending. These new findings on health intensify the already high value of quality early childhood development for disadvantaged children – and should be put to use to shape more effective state and national policies.”

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