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3 surprising benefits to early childhood education in poor children

Lana Bandoim's picture
Early Childhood Education

A new study published in Science magazine reveals that early childhood education in poor children affects their long-term health. The researchers found that high-quality programs had a significant positive impact on the children as they grew and became adults. These programs were intense and also affected the behavior of the children. The three benefits included reduced obesity, lower cholesterol and educational improvements.

Early intervention matters for disadvantaged youth

Researchers discovered that early intervention through intense childhood education programs led to positive results and better health for children who are considered disadvantaged. They were able to follow children in the Carolina Abecedarian Project (ABC) to see how they developed and changed as adults. Their findings were not surprising because previous research has indicated early childhood programs can help poor families.

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Factors including health and behavior were better in children who were part of the programs compared to those who were not part of them. Children in the programs had lower blood pressure, improved cardiovascular health and lower rates of obesity as adults. In addition, their behavior was significantly better with less drug use.

The value of preschool

The children in the Carolina Abecedarian Project were part of a program that provided them with snacks, activities and health screenings. They also received guidance on nutrition, interacted with their peers, developed new skills and applied their learning. These activities can be found in many preschools, but not every disadvantaged child can take part in them because of family circumstances.

Debates about the value of preschool programs have increased recently because of President Obama’s proposal to add a new one that would give every 4-year-old access. The program would be high quality, but critics wonder if a new one is necessary because there are dozens of early childhood initiatives being used already.

In the United States, 69 percent of all 4-year-old children are enrolled in preschool. Although this may seem like a high number, it is low compared to other developed countries. The U.S. was ranked 28th in 2012 based on the number of children who were participating in preschool programs. Critics have proposed reforming current early childhood education programs to make sure they are all high-quality instead of adding a new one.