Kids in Head Start Program Have Healthier Weight by Kindergarten Than Peers

Patient Expert

In January of 1964 President Lyndon Johnson said enough is enough and announced his "War on Poverty." Many politicians have declared war on many fronts since then, and eventually there will probably be a "War on Everything" program. But Johnson's sound committment eventually grew the  **Head Start program.  **

Head Start was an eight-week program for kids from low-income backgrounds that began in the summer of 1965. Over 560,000 children were serviced by way of preschool classes, medical care, dental care, and mental health provisions.

The main purpose of Head Start has been to assist children from poor socioeconomic environments where funds, parenting, and health may be lacking. Kids are allowed to attend school prior to kindergarten to level the field with kids of a more affluent status. When formal schooling begins, the gap is hopefully closed and the same level of education is shared on that first day.

The Head Start Success in Helping Kids Achieve Healthier Weight** Research** done at the University of Michigan has found that pre-school-aged kids who entered the Head Start program with an unhealthy body weight had a much better body mass index by kindergarten age, compared to children of the same age who were seen by pediatricians for well-child visits. In addition to the slowing of excessive weight gain by obese and overweight children in the program, underweight children had a necessary increase in weight gain.

The weights and heights of 19,023 children attending the Michigan Head Start program were compared to cohorts who were seen in doctor's offices for checkups and used as a comparison group.

Head Start previously has been lauded for having beneficial effects on developmental outcomes. Program factors believed to have attributed to the positive influence on the children's BMI's are the standards of nutrition and physical activity.

The meals and snacks in the Head Start program are federally regulated, and the quality might be superior to what many children receive at home. Children are more physically active in the Head Start program and experience less sedentary time than do other kids in general.

The structure that kids need that help promote useful routines and sleep patterns associated with reduced risk for obesity are also provided through Head Start. Finally, Head Start may help reduce stress in the home and allow more financial and psychological benefits needed to create a more healthy home environment.

Dr. Julie Lumeng, lead researcher of the study and associate professor at the University of Michigan Center for Human Growth and Development, believes that participation in Head Start might be an effective way to treat and prevent obesity in preschool children.

While health benefits are a byproduct of the program, it has been noted that Dr. Lumeng's study showed that some of the best strategies for weight control and promotion of good health may have little to do with one another in a direct way.

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University of Michigan