Our Research

The Importance of Research
in Preschool Health Education

Preschool Health Education Keeping children “healthy” is like a long marathon race that begins with birth and continues throughout childhood and adolescence. It is a race because we are racing against the threats to child health from accidents, injuries, and diseases that can be prevented. Children gradually need to learn how to “take care” of themselves- since parents and teachers cannot always be there to protect them.

This critical learning process must begin early in childhood -since even preschool children make important health decisions every day. These are decisions about safety (shall I touch that sharp knife?), hygiene (shall I wash my hands after I go to the bathroom?), smoking and drugs (shall I move away from that cigarette smoke?), sun-safety (shall I ask Mom or Dad for a hat and T-shirt since the sun is so hot?), nutrition (shall I ask Mom for an apple or a candy bar?); and physical activity (shall I ride my tricycle or watch TV?)

Preschool health education programs most likely to be effective are those designed to help children (a) learn to know what to do to keep themselves healthy (knowledge) , (b) believe that healthy living is really important to them (good attitudes), and ( c ) practice and reinforce good health behaviors, and not just talk about it (actions and behavior). The ultimate goal is to enable young children to make healthy lifestyle choices and develop good health habits in the first place - rather than try to undo bad habits later.

The most effective health education programs are those that have been put to the test and evaluated in the classroom. The evaluations may be designed to measure knowledge, attitudes, behavior, or environmental changes -like changes in the food service at school - or the physical education program. Evaluations may also be more general, such as asking teachers how easy or difficult the program was to implement; how age-appropriate the material was for the classroom; what they liked the best; what the children liked the best; and what they would change to improve the program. When choosing a health curriculum or other health program, be sure to ask how the program has been evaluated in the classroom - since this is the best measure of how effective the program will be for you. The best programs will have evaluations available for your review - many in the form of published papers.

The Healthy-Start comprehensive preschool program is very unique among early childhood health programs in that it has an excellent record of publications and evaluations. Healthy-Start was shown to be effective in improving nutrition and health knowledge and attitudes among preschool children, making meals and snacks in the preschool centers healthier, and in reducing heart disease risk (lowering cholesterol levels).

None of us need to be reminded that our children are our future, and for this reason we are especially alarmed with the rapid increase in obesity rates in childhood - now a staggering epidemic. To reverse this epidemic we need effective educational programs for children, teachers and parents- starting with preschool and continuing through young adulthood. Programs like “Healthy-Start” “Healthy Hops” and “Animal Trackers” can help - but only if they are “put to work” in the preschool classroom.

-Christine L. Williams, MD
Healthy-Start Published Articles and Abstracts as of March 1, 2004

To date 13 scientific papers have been published or are in press, and 14 abstracts have been presented at national meetings:

Click here to view publication citations.