Monday, March 31st, 2014
A study 42 years in the making found more than it was searching for, data reveals. Researchers set out to record the cognitive abilities of low-income children starting from infancy. One group was given full-time day care, meals, and stimulating activities while the other group was given nothing besides baby formula. And while the study organizers were expecting to connect children’s intellect with financial hardships (which they did), they also observed a relationship between those hardships and the overall health of the kids as they entered adulthood. More from The New York Times:
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.”
The findings come amid a political push by the Obama administration for government-funded preschool for 4-year-olds. But a growing number of experts, Professor Heckman among them, say they believe that more effective public programs would start far earlier — in infancy, for example, because that is when many of the skills needed to take control of one’s life and become a successful adult are acquired.
The study in Science drew its data from the Carolina Abecedarian Project, in which about 100 infants from low-income families in North Carolina were followed from early infancy to their mid-30s. The project is well known in the world of social science because of its design: The infants were randomly assigned to one group or the other, allowing researchers to isolate the effects of the program. Such designs are the gold standard in medical research, but are rarely used in investigations that influence domestic social policy.
The researchers had already answered their original question about cognitive development: whether the treated children would, for example, be less likely to fail in school. The answer was yes. Over all, the participants’ abilities as infants were about the same, but by age 3 they had diverged. By age 30, those in the group given special care were four times as likely to have graduated from college.
“Forty years ago, it was all about cognition,” Professor Heckman said. “But it turned out that when you expand these capabilities — not only cognitive but social and emotional — one of the effects is better health. Nobody thought about that at the time.”…
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Friday, August 9th, 2013
A decline–small, but significant, experts say–in the obesity rate among preschoolers growing up in low-income family is offering a glimmer of hope that efforts to combat the childhood obesity epidemic may be working. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released news of the decline in a recent report. USA Today has more:
Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey, South Dakota and the U.S. Virgin Islands had the largest absolute decreases in prevalence of obesity, with a drop of at least 1 percentage point, the report says. Obesity rates held steady in 20 states and Puerto Rico. They rose in Colorado, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
Researchers analyzed weight and height data of about 11.6 million children ages 2 to 4 in federally funded maternal- and child-nutrition programs. The data came from the Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System.
“Although obesity remains epidemic, the tide has begun to turn for some kids in some states,” Frieden says. “While the changes are small, for the first time in a generation they are going in the right direction.”
Previous research has shown that about one in eight preschoolers are obese in the USA, the CDC says. Preschoolers who are overweight or obese are five times more likely than their normal-weight peers to be overweight or obese as adults.
“It’s great news, but it’s too early to say that I feel confident that we are securely on the path to improvement,” said James Marks, senior vice president at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropy devoted to public health.
The results are surprising, he said, “because of the speed at which the epidemic appears to be turning around.” The report shows “the highest-risk children in almost half of the states are getting healthier.” Marks, a pediatrician, is the director of the health group of the Princeton, N.J.-based foundation.
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Tuesday, July 30th, 2013
Thirty percent of US women have had a time when they had trouble paying for the diapers they needed for their children, a new study published in the journal Pediatrics has found. The cost of diapers, the study found, is one of the most stressful items in the lives of low-income families, and especially single mothers. More from NBC News:
Thirty percent of the women interviewed for a new study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics said they’d experienced a time when they could not afford to buy the diapers their kids needed. And a full 8 percent reported that they would “stretch” the diapers they had when their supply was running short by leaving a wet diaper on their child or partially cleaning the diaper and reusing it.
In fact, worry over how to pay for diapers is now among the top stressors for low-income parents, next to concerns about food and housing, researchers say.
The concerns come as Americans continue to grapple with the effects of the deep recession and weak recovery, which has left many families scrambling to keep up with rising bills. The nation’s median household income declined to $50,054 in 2011. After adjusting for inflation, that’s nearly 9 percent lower than the peak in 1999.
The problem is especially acute for single moms, who tend to already be among the most economically vulnerable. The overall poverty rate was 15 percent in 2011, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau. But nearly 41 percent of female-headed households with children under age 18 were living below the poverty line, according to the Census Bureau. That compares to a little less than 9 percent of married-couple families with kids under 18.
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Thursday, December 27th, 2012
A modestly lower number of children from low-income families are clinically obese, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Recently, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a study finding declines in childhood obesity rates in some major U.S. cities. More on this week’s report from The New York Times:
The study, by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drew on the height and weight measurements of 27 million children who were part of the federal Women, Infants and Children program, which provides food subsidies to low-income mothers and their children up to the age of 5.
The study was based on data from 30 states and the District of Columbia and covered the years from 1998 to 2010. The share of children who were obese declined to 14.9 percent in 2010, down from 15.2 percent in 2003, after rising between 1998 and 2003. Extreme obesity also declined, dropping to 2.07 percent in 2010 from 2.22 percent in 2003. The study was published Tuesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
The report defined a 3-year-old boy of average height, almost 3 feet 2 inches tall, as being obese when he weighed 37 pounds or more. The same boy was categorized as being extremely obese when he weighed 44 pounds or more.
“The declines we’re presenting here are pretty modest, but it is a change in direction,” said Heidi M. Blanck, one of the study’s authors and the acting director of the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity at the disease centers. “We were going up before. And this data shows we’re going down. For us, that’s pretty exciting.”
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Monday, December 17th, 2012
An innovative new program in New York City is offering nurses special training to offer support and guidance to low-income, first-time moms who may be uneducated on how to give their babies–and themselves–the crucial care that can keep them healthy and thriving. The New York Times reports:
“The program, which was started in upstate New York in the 1970s and has been adopted in 42 states, is one of the rare public initiatives that have shown consistent and rigorously tested benefits for the mothers and children, as well as significant savings for taxpayers.
In different studies on different demographic groups, women in the program have had fewer premature deliveries, smoked less during pregnancy, spent less time on public assistance, waited longer to have subsequent children, had fewer arrests and convictions, and maintained longer contact with their baby’s fathers. Their children have had fewer language delays and reported less abuse and neglect, slightly higher I.Q. scores, fewer arrests and convictions by age 19, and less depression and anxiety.
A 2011 study of New York City’s Nurse-Family Partnership program, which currently has 91 nurses serving 1,940 families, projected that by the time a child in the program turns 12, the city, state and federal governments will have saved a combined $27,895, with additional savings thereafter — more than twice the program’s cost per child. The study was conducted by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation using data from the Nurse-Family Partnership’s research at three locations, then extrapolated to New York.
This fall, I attended a dozen home visits, all in the Bronx, with five nurses — three from the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, which contracts with the city to provide service in the Bronx, and two, including Ms. Schmidt, with the health department’s Targeted Citywide Initiative, which tackles the most at-risk cases. The nurses’ styles and backgrounds varied; the families’ needs and challenges even more so. Each mother participated voluntarily and at no cost.
The problems were many: violence on the street, abuse in the women’s past, illness, anger, obesity, insecure housing or financial circumstances. Most of the women had the poor luck to have been born in poverty. Like their middle-class counterparts, none came into the world knowing how to raise a baby.”
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