School-based PreK Predicts BMI at Age 35

The increasing prevalence of childhood and adult obesity has led to a high priority on the identification of innovative approaches to prevention. Given that the prevalence of adult obesity has doubled over the past 3 decades and currently affects 40% of U. S. adults, comprehensive and multi-level efforts beginning in early childhood are increasing recommended as the one of the most impactful and cost-effective.  However, few if any routinely implemented programs have demonstrated they lead to sustained reductions in childhood obesity, let alone into adulthood. In this presentation, the impact of the Child-Parent Center (CPC) preschool education program on Body Mass Index (BMI) and obesity in early midlife is investigated for the first time. CPC is a school-based, multi-component early childhood intervention designed to improve school success and long-term health and well-being. It is currently undergoing expansion as a school reform model. Because it has been found to have enduring effects on school achievement, educational attainment, and health behaviors, it was hypothesized that program participation would be associated with lower adult BMI scores and reductions in obesity prevalence.

Using data from over 1,000 participants up to age 37 from the Chicago Longitudinal Study—one of the largest and longest-running prospective investigations of the impact of early childhood experience—results indicated that CPC preschool participation was associated with significantly lower BMI scores in midlife, especially for women and participants from the highest poverty neighborhoods. Reductions in obesity (BMI scores of 30 and above) were exclusive to female CPC graduates. Evidence on mediation was limited, with educational attainment, socio-emotional adjustment in elementary school, and high school quality being the strongest predictors and contributors to mediation. Findings will inform the design, implementation, and scalability of effective early childhood programs and practices for promoting healthy development.

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