This article reports on a long-term study of the lasting effects of early childhood education.


The article is misleadingly titled “Project to Improve Poor Children’s Intellect Led to Better Health, Data Shows.”


But the study involved far more than improving young children’s intellect.


In 1972, researchers in North Carolina started following two groups of babies from poor families. In the first group, the children were given full-time day care up to age 5 that included most of their daily meals, talking, games and other stimulating activities. The other group, aside from baby formula, got nothing. The scientists were testing whether the special treatment would lead to better cognitive abilities in the long run.

Forty-two years later, the researchers found something that they had not expected to see: The group that got care was far healthier, with sharply lower rates of high blood pressure and obesity, and higher levels of so-called good cholesterol.

The study, which was published in the journal Science on Thursday, is part of a growing body of scientific evidence that hardship in early childhood has lifelong health implications. But it goes further than outlining the problem, offering evidence that a particular policy might prevent it.

“This tells us that adversity matters and it does affect adult health,” said James Heckman, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago who led the data analysis. “But it also shows us that we can do something about it, that poverty is not just a hopeless condition.”


Professor James Heckman, a Nobel-prize winning economist from the University of Chicago, sees the study as evidence that early childhood education does not mean a year of preschool but early nurturing from infancy that enable children to develop as healthy and happy human beings, attending to their skills, capabilities, curiosity, and engagement with others.