Healthy Starts for All

Policy Prescriptions

Clear evidence supports the recommendation of the Commission to Build a Healthier America that policy-makers devote substantial resources to meet the early developmental needs of low-income children.

Research conducted in numerous fields, including genetics and neurophysiology, over the past decade, suggests that adult disease can be traced to early life experience. In keeping with that body of evidence, the Commission to Build a Healthier America has made childhood health its top domestic priority.

This article, a review of child health and development research from the past 20 years, offers a brief synopsis of current knowledge. The authors update information developed for the Commission and identify evidence-based policies and interventions. The paper describes interventions undertaken to improve cognitive, social and emotional development, in particular for socioeconomically disadvantaged children. The authors review the different types of childhood stress and report recent increases in federal funding.

Key Findings:

  • The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study examined current health status, behaviors, and premature deaths among 17,000 adults along with past histories of abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction; exposure to childhood stress increased the rate of adult disease and premature death.
  • Since 1996, the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) has provided home visits to more than 110,000 first-time, low-income mothers and families from pregnancy through the child’s 2nd birthday; NFP has led to significant improvements in maternal health, child health and safety and adolescent delinquency.

This article appears in a supplement to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine that presents the research and findings of the Commission to Build a Healthier America. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation established the Commission to broaden America’s health policy.