A Head Start on Health: Early Childhood Interventions and Health Across the Life Course
Rich theoretical and empirical literature link early childhood factors to adult health outcomes, providing evidence that health disparities start early in life and propagate throughout the life course, with non-cognitive skills being increasingly implicated in this relationship. Model preschool experiments such as Perry Preschool and Abecedarian give further support to this claim in addition to highlighting an important and perhaps more promising feature of the life course view of health – that interventions in early childhood might be leveraged to reduce the effects of early disadvantage on adult health. Despite this hopeful preliminary evidence, concerns remain over whether such experimental findings can be implemented on a broader scale. This thesis examines the role of Head Start, the United States’ largest federally funded comprehensive early childhood program, in supporting the earlier findings from model preschool programs. I address the limitations and gaps in existing Head Start literature that prevent comprehensive analysis of long-term health outcomes and give recommendations for utilizing existing longitudinal data in the Children of the NLSY79 study, including rich information on health behaviors, self-rated health status, and non-cognitive factors, that can further our understanding of Head Start’s impact on long-term health outcomes and the pathways through which early childhood interventions might act to influence adult health.