Early experiences are built into our bodies. They shape the wiring of the brain, and they impact how biological systems develop.
Adverse experiences during the early years of life, such as chronic poverty or abuse, can disrupt normal developmental processes, setting the stage for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and other chronic illnesses later in life.
As science uncovers how early experiences and environments can negatively impact physiology, research also is showing how high quality early childhood programs can do just the opposite and prevent later chronic disease.
A 30-year study of children who participated in the Carolina Abecedarian Program shows substantial positive effects on later adult health. They have significantly improved health as adults, make healthier lifestyle choices and experience fewer illnesses as adults. They have lower rates of high blood pressure and significantly lower risk of heart disease.
The Carolina Abecedarian Project was a randomized trial that focused on early health and learning—and tracked life and health outcomes well into adulthood, including periodic physical exams for both the treatment and control groups in their mid-30s. The study provided high quality early care and learning and included nutritional and health care components. Children received two meals and an afternoon snack and received periodic medical check-ups, screenings and follow-up care.