There are four criteria to determine if a health problem or condition is a public health issue, according to the 2006 research article, Chronic Kidney Disease: A Public Health Problem That Needs a Public Health Action Plan. Those criteria include: the health condition must place a large burden on society, the burden is distributed unfairly, future preventive strategies could reduce the burden, and current preventive strategies are not currently in place. According to these criteria, it can be argued that early childhood education is a public health issue. This is an issue that is distributed unfairly, future preventive strategies can reduce the burden, without investing in early childhood education the health of the general population worsens-making it a burden on society, and although there are some preventive strategies, more need to be implemented.
In a recent report by Brooke Fisher, Ann Hanson, and Tony Raden, Start Early to Build a Healthy Future: The research linking early learning and health, they provide an overview of research that addresses what it takes for a child to have a healthy start in life. Their research supports the idea that investing in high-quality early childhood education does benefit one’s health. A summary of the findings from research linking comprehensive, high-quality early education to health is found below:
Child Health Outcomes
- Improved physical health: lower rates of injury, lower rates of overweight/obesity and lower body mass index (BMI), increased access to age-appropriate immunizations
- Improved oral health: increased access to oral health screenings and increased access to dental care
- Improved social-emotional, mental and behavioral health: lower rates of delinquency, fewer behavior problems, better classroom and interpersonal conduct
- Increase engagement in health-promoting behaviors: more likely to be physically active, more likely to consume nutritious meals, and lower rates of cigarette, alcohol, and marijuana use at age 12
Long-Term Health Outcomes In Adulthood
- Improved physical health: reduced risk of coronary heart disease, lower rates of hypertension, lower rates of abdominal obesity (among female participants)
- Improved mental health: fewer depressive symptoms
- Increased engagement in health-promoting behaviors: lower rates and delayed onset of marijuana use, lower rates of drug or alcohol treatment, more likely to eat nutritious food (among female participants)
These findings suggest that “high-quality early education programs have repeatedly proven to be sound investments with lasting health benefits” however “too few low-income children have access”. Therefore, without investing in this issue and making access equal for all, we are only increasing the burden of this issue on millions of Americans.
In order to address this public health issue, strategies should be implemented. This report lists recommendations that should be made to address this issue, which include:
- Direct health resources to the youngest and most vulnerable children from the prenatal period to age five
- Implement effective evidenced-based practices that meet young children’s comprehensive needs in both early education and health care settings
- Invest in systems that support high-quality and effective services in early childhood and health care settings
- Build cross-sector collaboration to support young children in achieving good health, broadly defined to include children’s interrelated health and developmental needs
- Embark on research and evaluation that explore the link between early learning and health
Overall, this report has shown that investing in high-quality childhood education has positive benefits on one’s health, not only as a child, but as an adult. However, they suggest that it is also important to support a child holistically. This would advocate for future preventive strategies that do not just invest in early childhood programs, but also in family engagement and care provided by pediatrician offices. Additionally, it supports the idea that continuing not to invest in this issue will continue to be a burden on the public’s health.
This is a comprehensive study that provides an overview of research that supports the notion that early childhood education is a public health issue. This issue is a burden on society, is distributed unfairly, can be reduced by preventive strategies, and has only a few preventive strategies. Therefore, more research should be conducted on “the full spectrum of health outcomes associated with early education program[s]”, because it is an investment that benefits the public’s health, and will lead to more successful preventive strategies.
Proper education and proper nutrition go hand in hand; together they provide infants and toddlers with the foundation to succeed in grade school, high school, and beyond. We’ve been examining the administration and utilization of the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and other ways providers ensure their charges are eating healthy food while in their care.
So what is the Child and Adult Care Food Program?
CACFP is a federal program that provides reimbursements to early education and care programs and home-based family early education providers serving healthy meals that contribute to the wellness, healthy growth, and development of young children. Early education and care programs participating in CACFP are required to follow healthy meal patterns established by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). In Massachusetts, CACFP is administered by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. In addition to providing a partial reimbursement for the cost of food, CACFP also provides training and technical assistance to providers in the program.
CACFP also serves emergency shelters that serve children, after-school programs for at-risk youth, and adult day health care centers.
Did you know that:
- 1 in 6 children in Massachusetts are food insecure?
- 28% of children in MA public schools are overweight or obese by 1st grade?
- Over two-thirds of family child care providers are enrolled in CACFP, while only a quarter of early education and care centers are enrolled?
- CACFP serves 54,000 children in Massachusetts annually?
- CACFP brings in $50 million in federal funds to MA, more than the school breakfast and summer food program combined?
If you live in the Berkshires, join us on December 2nd for a forum on CACFP at Berkshire Community College. Register now!
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, MassBudget, Eos Foundation and Umass Center for Social Policy analysis done August 2012, Food Assistance Programs in Massachusetts; FRAC, CACFP Program: Participation Trends 2012.