Investing in America’s youngest children key to lifelong health

A new report urges a stronger focus on improving socioeconomic conditions in the U.S. as a way to improve health—especially among low-income Americans. Issued by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commission to Build a Healthier America, the report recommends investing in the physical and mental well-being of young children; creating communities that foster health-promoting behaviors; and promoting health outside of the medical system.

David Williams, the Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and staff director of the commission, was interviewed about the report’s recommendation to spend more on early childhood education on PBS NewsHour January 13, 2014. He cited research suggesting that children who attend preschool are more likely to have higher levels of education, income, home ownership, and marriage, and less involvement with the criminal justice or social welfare system—and that all of these factors influence health.

“We know that the foundations of health in adulthood are laid in childhood,” said Williams. “The opportunities and experiences that children have even before they go to school shape their risk of chronic disease 30 or 40 years later.”

Jack Shonkoff, Julius B. Richmond FAMRI Professor of Child Health and Development at HSPH and Director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, who provided expert advice for the commission’s work, said in a RWJF video, “Early experience gets into our bodies….[Focusing on] early childhood is the key to reducing many of the mental and physical health problems that place a burden on all of society.”

Watch the PBS NewsHour interview with David Williams

Watch the RWJF video with Jack Shonkoff

Learn more

Creating a healthy America doesn’t end with insurance reform (HSPH feature)

Prolonged childhood stress takes toll on developing brains that can last a lifetime (HSPH news)