Early education enrichment can bring in an improved health and healthier behaviors in early adulthood, says a recent study.
For the study, researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health used data from a well-known Carolina Abecedarian Project (ABC), a randomized control study that enrolled 111 infants in the 1970s and continued to follow them through age 21.
The study is only the second to explore the relationship of early childhood education and adult health benefits. The first study, based on the Perry Preschool Program, also was conducted by Columbia professors Peter Muennig and Matthew Neidell on a similarly small cohort of children, and found behavioral benefits, but no overall health benefits.
The current study expands the previous study to examine the impact of ABC on three health measures and 11 measures of behavioral risk factors. The health measures were the number of self-reported health problems since 15 years of age, a depression index score, and the number of hospitalizations in the past year.
Behavioral risk factors concerned traffic safety, drug use, and access to primary care. Researchers found that participants had significantly better health and health behaviors and that these findings were independent of IQ, educational attainment or health insurance status.
The original study was small, but it had a very strong effect on education. Until it came along, the benefit of education had never been proven using the gold standard in research methods-the randomized controlled trial.
"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 Muennig.
"While much remains to be learned about both the pathways linking education to health and the overall effect sizes of education on health, our study provides causal evidence in support of the hypothesis that early education enhancements may improve income, reduce crime, and even enhance the global competitiveness of the American workforce," suggested Muennig.
"These interventions may be more cost effective than many traditional medical and public health approaches to improving population health," he added.
The findings have been published in the journal American Journal of Public Health.