The Effects of Early Care and Education on Children's Health

A teacher reads to a group of preschool students.

A growing body of research indicates that early child care and education may lead to improvements in short- and long-term health-related outcomes for children.

What's the issue?

Early care and education (ECE) includes settings in which children are cared for and taught by people other than their parents or primary caregivers with whom they live. These include center-based care arrangements (for example, child care centers, preschools, and prekindergartens) and non-parental, home-based arrangements, in which care is provided in the child’s or caregiver’s home (for example, care by nannies, relatives, or babysitters and in family child care homes, which are regulated settings in which a caregiver cares for multiple unrelated children in her own home). Home visiting programs, in which a visitor spends time with children while the parents are present, are not considered ECE.

While ECE programs are not necessarily designed to improve child health, a growing body of research indicates that they may lead to short- and long-term improvements in health-related outcomes. This brief highlights such outcomes of ECE. It focuses specifically on center-based care, as the research base on the health effects of non-parental home-based care is still sparse.

What's next?

To maximize positive impacts, ECE programs should offer high-quality, evidence-based programming and curricula and be aligned with the content taught in the elementary schools children attend following preschool. The inclusion of physical and mental health components such as screenings and nutrition may be helpful for promoting health behaviors or outcomes, but more research is needed to understand the specific mechanisms by which ECE affects health.