A new study from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health finds that low-income children who participated in high-quality early education had better health and healthier behaviors as young adults. Researchers looked at data from North Carolina’s Abecedarian Project, one of three “gold standard” studies of the impact of high-quality early education on low-income children. They found that at age 21, Abecedarian participants reported fewer health problems over the previous six years, had lower rates of depression, and had fewer hospitalizations in the past year. Researchers also looked at 11 behavioral risk factors in the areas of traffic safety, drug use and access to primary care. Here, too, participants scored significantly better than non-participants.
The new study, published in the Journal of Public Health, follows the researchers’ earlier examination of data from the Perry Preschool Project, another of the gold-standard studies. The earlier study found, among other things, that Perry Preschool participants were less likely to smoke or use drugs and more likely to use seat belts. Female participants were less likely to become pregnant as teenagers.
“What we have found is that this educational intervention also reduced health risks like smoking and improved health outcomes as early as age 21,” said principal investigator Dr. Peter Muennig, assistant professor of Health Policy and Management at the Mailman school. “The health benefits were quite dramatic…. These interventions may be more cost effective than many traditional medical and public health approaches to improving population health.”