Health Benefits of Early Childhood Education Seen 30 Years Later

Quality early childhood education leads to healthy lifestyle choices that help prevent chronic disease, says Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman. Professor Heckman released new longitudinal findings of adults who participated in the Abecedarian study as children, and says they show that quality early education have long-lasting health benefits that could lead to reduced health care spending. 

The Abecedarian Project, which included a nutrition component, placed infants in high-quality child care settings from infancy through age 5. Other children participating in the project were placed in a control group. The Project involved children born between 1972 and 1977, so participants now are in their late 30s and early 40s.

Heckman’s review of the adult health outcomes found that men and women who were placed in high-quality child care settings were less likely to suffer from various chronic diseases. For example, both men and women were less likely to have high blood pressure. Remarkably, none of the men who received high-quality child care had metabolic syndrome, a set of criteria that raise the risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Twenty-five percent of those in the control group had metabolic syndrome.   

Heckman’s Policy Recommendations
Based on these latest findings, Professor Heckman has the following recommendations:

  • Recognize that quality, birth-to-age-5 early childhood education programs can and should be used to prevent adult chronic disease.
  • Make quality early childhood development an integral part of ongoing health care reform, particularly among families receiving Medicaid and CHIP.
  • Understand that quality early childhood programs start with effective prenatal care for mothers and begin at birth for children.
  • Integrate early health and nutrition into early childhood development programs. Early health is critical for later adult health outcomes.

Video on Dr. Heckman's recent health findings of the Abecedarian Project students.

(Source: Campbell, Frances, Gabriella Conti, James J. Heckman, Seong Hyeok Moon, Rodrigo Pinto, Liz Pungello and Yi Pan. (2014). “Early Childhood Investments Substantially Boost Adult Health,” Forthcoming, Science.)

Kristi Chessmore
May 20, 2014

I have been in early childhood services for 18 years and remember this study very well!  I did not realize it had been followed up with another study and am very excited to see the results.

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