Illustration by Donna Grethen / Op Art
There’s plenty of talk these days about the virtues of early-childhood education, and most of it, predictably, comes via education experts. But when medical types chime in, it can add important heft to cost-benefit analyses. Sort of like when scientists began to confirm that climate change is real.
Last month Aaron Carroll, a pediatrician and health policy researcher at the Indiana University School of Medicine, happened upon a 30-year study of early childhood interventions that, as he put it “just blows me away.”
You don’t often hear medical types speak in such terms.
Between 1972 and 1977, researchers randomly studied 111 children, from birth to age 8, and followed up decades later to see whether certain education and medical treatments in childhood reaped significant implications when those kids became adults. (The study was published in Science Magazine, which requires a subscription. But you can read a summary here and look over some data here.)
The kids, all of them from poor families in rural North Carolina, were divided into two groups. One half received language lessons, social stimulation and emotional guidance — that is, high-quality daycare — eight hours a day, for their first five years. They also got two meals, a snack, regular check-ups and medical treatment when ill. The other group received no special attention.