Mountains of research demonstrate the long-term impact of early childhood education for our economy, our children and our society. Despite bipartisan recognition of the importance of starting early, too many children still lack access to opportunities that will prepare them for future success. A new study published in Science gives the case for early investments another push: quality early education programs for children lead to improved health outcomes for adults.

In fact, education at an early age may actually help prevent chronic disease. Based on more than three decades of studying children in and out of the Abecedarian program in North Carolina, this new research shows that children who participated in the early childhood development program, which combined early education with early health screenings and nutrition, have a much lower prevalence of risk factors for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, such as stroke and diabetes, in their mid-30s than the control group, who did not participate in early learning programs.

The study, published in one of the world’s top scientific journals, cannot be ignored. As University of Chicago economics professor James Heckman, one of the study’s authors said in the New York Times, “This is tangible, it is real. It’s not just a declaration from someone saying, ‘I’m smart and I think this is true.’ ”

The implications of this research for policy makers? At a minimum:

  • Understand that quality early childhood programs start at birth.
  • Recognize that quality birth-to-five early childhood development programs can and should be used to prevent adult chronic disease.
  • Pass the Strong Start for America’s Children Act to help states and communities provide greater access to high quality early childhood education programs.
  • Make investments in federal interventions we know work, including Early Head Start, Head Start, home visiting, and child care; and adequately fund Preschool Development Grants to assure quality.

Recent weeks have demonstrated that the forward momentum on Capitol Hill and in the states is picking up steam. The study in Science provides ample reason to keep up the push.