Quality Early Childhood Interventions, Like Abecedarian, Improve Health Outcomes and Reduce Healthcare Spending and Social Welfare Costs


I had intended to blog yesterday morning about some informative NY Times “baby-toddler” articles that I read over the weekend, but, alas, my kids being home for Spring break and other distractions prevented me from doing so.  I will get to those articles soon when life settles.  In the meantime, because life is so busy and “rollercoastery” this week, I will do what the Heckman Equation asked me to do in the email that I received yesterday:  feature their blog post (Heckman and his colleagues, as if right on cue, seemed to know that life was busy this week for blogging moms and dads, so they provided an already-written post!).

Here is the email:

Thank you for joining last week’s webinar on the long-term health effects of the Abecedarian early childhood program. We hope that this exciting new research from Professor Heckman and colleagues will be helpful in your work. Quality early interventions, like Abecedarian, have huge potential to improve health outcomes for disadvantaged children and reduce healthcare spending and social welfare costs. We urge you to share this information with other advocates, policymakers and the media.

We’re writing today with a request that you feature the following blog post on your organization’s website or write your own.

You can also find the slide deck and other related resources online atheckmanequation.org/health-research.

A new way to prevent chronic disease: early health, nutrition and education.

By The Heckman Equation

The Perry Preschool study has shown that high-quality early development programs for disadvantaged children can lead to better education, social and economic outcomes for individuals and society. New research from Professor Heckman and colleagues at the University of Chicago, University College London and the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina has demonstrated another remarkable benefit of early childhood programs that include early health, nutrition and learning: better adult health outcomes.

The researchers analyzed over 30 years of longitudinal data on the health effects of the Carolina Abecedarian Project. Abecedarian was unique in providing center-based education, primary pediatric care—including health screenings and periodic check-ups—and nutrition services to disadvantaged children, beginning shortly after birth and continuing through age 5. While control group children were eligible for Medicaid and had access to community clinics, the local health department office and the hospital ER, they didn’t receive the comprehensive and coordinated set of developmental services, experiences and skills that the treatment group received at the childcare center.

Thorough medical check-ups of participants in their mid-30s revealed that treatment group individuals were in significantly better health than their peers in the control group, with a much lower prevalence of risk factors for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, such as stroke and diabetes. Treatment group males had higher “good” HDL cholesterol and substantially reduced levels of hypertension, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome, which dramatically increases one’s risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Women in the treatment group were less likely to suffer from pre-hypertension and obesity. And, both men and women were at significantly lower risk for total coronary heart disease than those in the control group.

What are the implications—and potential applications—of these findings? Early intervention is a promising strategy for disease prevention, and these findings should be used to inform smarter health and education policies. The evidence suggests that we can improve health and economic outcomes for disadvantaged children through comprehensive and coordinated early childhood programs. These programs should start at birth and ensure that disadvantaged children have access to cognitive and emotional stimulation, health care and nutrition. This will likely increase their chances of getting a healthy start in life and staying healthy by providing them with the cognitive and character skills necessary to self-diagnose, seek medical treatment and follow doctors’ orders. This approach not only benefits the children receiving the care, but society as a whole, as the prevention of costly chronic diseases through early childhood programs has great potential to reduce healthcare spending and social welfare costs.

You can find the full research paper, a two-page summary, short videos, shareable quotes, infographics and more at heckmanequation.org/health-research.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s