Is Pre-K Doing All It Can to Improve Child Health?

NEW policy brief identifies how programs can benefit children and parents

New Brunswick, NJ — High-quality preschool can be part of a stronger culture of health that improves children’s physical and mental health through better health behaviors as well as better health care. However, too many state policies and programs miss opportunities to provide significant benefits, according to a new analysis by the National Institute for Early Education Research.

Children in quality preschool are more likely to receive health and dental care, and are less likely to suffer depressive symptoms, high blood pressure and hypertension later in life, research finds. Quality programs also can increase children’s cognitive and social-emotional skills, which helps reduce risk-taking behaviors and unemployment throughout life. In addition, preschool programs also can help children develop healthy eating habits and engage in regular, vigorous exercise through play.

Improvements in children’s health also can  result from positive effects on parents and parenting. High-quality programs can enhance parenting skills,  reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect, and address parent health issues.

“Quality programs provide health screenings, nutritious food and plenty of time for active play for young children, while engaging and encouraging parents to make healthy food choices and get active with their children—reducing obesity and stress,” said Allison Friedman-Krauss, lead author of the analysis. “Unfortunately, too few programs are doing all they could to set children on the path to good health.”

NIEER today published Early Childhood Education: Three Pathways to Better Health, a new policy paper exploring how access to high-quality preschool and parenting education beginning in early pregnancy can provide children lasting health benefits in the U.S. and internationally. NIEER recommends that programs:

  • Provide health screenings and referrals for follow-up care to encourage and facilitate access to vision, hearing, dental, mental health and other health care
  • Require early learning programs to provide information about health, nutrition and exercise so children and parents can develop healthy habits
  • Offer nutrition supplementation to prevent, and reverse, malnutrition where needed
  • Prescribe healthy and nutritious foods and exercise to combat obesity
  • Support children’s social-emotional development

More research is needed, Dr. Friedman-Krauss noted, but available evidence is clear that preschool is an opportunity to foster a culture of health in which childhood poverty doesn’t lead to poor adult health.

Early Childhood Education: Three Pathways to Better Health was supported by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Findings, interpretations, and conclusions in this report are solely those of the authors.

The National Institute for Early Education Research ( at the Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, supports early childhood education policy and practice through independent, objective research. For more information, contact: Michelle Ruess 848-932-4350