Health, Nutrition and Safety

Publication Date: June 23, 2008

Head Start children face a number of health and safety risks that can negatively affect their growth and development and impede their ability to learn. Key domains of health concern include weight, asthma, dental care, and other chronic issues (e.g., middle ear infections). The risks associated with childhood overweight and obesity are receiving increased attention. Government statistics suggest that approximately one-third of U.S. children and teens are overweight, or at-risk for being overweight. Excess weight in childhood is associated with many negative health consequences, including high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, as well as with psychosocial stresses and social stigmatization which can hinder children’s academic and social functioning.  Another key area of concern for young children’s health is asthma, a chronic health condition that affects 9.6 percent of children in the United States (6.8 million children).  Asthma has a disproportionate impact on low-income children; in 2006, children in poor families were more likely to have been diagnosed with asthma or to still have asthma (18% and 14%) than children in families that were not poor (13% and 8%). Asthma is the third-ranking cause of hospitalization among children, and hospitalizations are highest among children 0—4 years. Children in Head Start programs are also affected by chronic health conditions such as tooth decay, the most common chronic disease of childhood. Low-income children are affected by tooth decay much more than are the rest of the population, and dental decay can result in the inability to concentrate in school, delayed learning, speech and language dysfunction, and failure to thrive. Other chronic health conditions affecting the lives of Head Start children and their families include otitis media (middle ear infections), tuberculosis, lead poisoning, and infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or other sexually transmitted diseases before birth.

Head Start's 9th National Research Conference


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