New York, March 31: Children born into poor families are sicker and die earlier than their well-off counterparts, particularly from obesity-related diseases such as heart attack and stroke.
Now, research suggests intensive day care programmes can give poor children a better shot at living longer, healthier lives.
“Children who grew up poor but participated in an intensive, five-year day care programme were significantly healthier in their mid-30s than similarly impoverished children who did not receive the same care,” researchers reported.
Launched in 1972 at the University of North Carolina (UNC), Chapel Hill, the Carolina Abecedarian Project is one of the longest running studies on the benefits of early childhood education for low-income children.
The original goal of the research “was to see if it was possible to enhance IQ and school readiness among poor children at high risk of falling”, psychologist Frances Campbell at UNC Chapel Hill was quoted as saying.
For this, researchers has recruited families with two-month-old babies.
The majority of the more than 100 infants that participated were African-American, mostly born to low-income mothers who had not graduated from high school.
All infants received nutritional supplements, basic social services and access to health care.
They received constant attention from trained caregivers for six to eight hours per day, five days per week.
Once they reached school age, the children who had received the intervention consistently performed in reading and math about one grade level higher than the control group.
By age 21, the education gap between the groups had widened further, affecting income status.
For the study, Campbell and colleagues examined all of the participants still left in the North Carolina trial, taking blood pressure and other measurements when they were in their mid-30s.
The team found that average blood pressure for men who had been in the day care programme as children was in the normal range, a report in the journal Science said.
“In addition to high blood pressure, roughly a quarter of men in the control group also had metabolic syndrome,” Gabriella Conti of University College London added.
The study suggests that it is possible to prevent conditions such as obesity and heart disease in the poor by day care programmes designed for their kids.