Full-day kindergarten might be linked to higher levels of educational attainment and, in turn, healthier, longer lives, according to a new study released by UNLV's School of Community Health Sciences and partners.
The health impact assessment (HIA) -- compiled using publicly available data obtained from school districts across Nevada, as well as existing literature -- analyzed some of the connections between full-day kindergarten, academic success and health.
According to the findings, students enrolled in full-day kindergarten might go on to achieve higher levels of education over their lifetimes. People with higher levels of education are more likely to practice healthy behaviors such as exercising, avoiding tobacco and eating nutritiously. These could lead to a reduced risk of obesity, cancer, heart disease and other health conditions, and increased life expectancy.
Researchers also found evidence that children who attend full-day kindergarten, particularly in the short term, tend to achieve higher math and reading test scores than those in half-day programs. This appears especially true among Black, Hispanic, English-Language Learner and low-income students. In addition, in many cases, full-day students have greater access to regular meals, which are also associated with positive academic performance.
The study offers recommendations to decision-makers and the community. They include implementing evidence-informed school-based nutrition education and physical activity requirements early on, which is shown to influence positive eating habits and health into adolescence and beyond.
"As Nevada considers its K-12 education system, it's important to think how health fits into the picture. Decisions made about full-day kindergarten may have health effects, too," said Max Gakh, an HIA team member and scholar in residence at UNLV's School of Community Health Sciences. "There is that connection to health, which is important to be aware of for children and possibly into adulthood as well."
For close to a decade, Nevada has offered full-day kindergarten at some of its schools through a mix of free and tuition-based programs, but the debate around full-day kindergarten expansion continues at both the state and national levels. The analysis was released just as Nevada lawmakers voted this past session to steer millions of dollars toward expanding full-day kindergarten offerings statewide.
According to the study, about 87 percent of Nevada public school students enrolled in kindergarten are estimated to have access to either publicly-funded or tuition-based full-day programs.
HIAs are gaining in popularity nationally and around the world as a way for public health researchers and practitioners to connect with other sectors and communities to explore the health impact of public policy decisions. They bring additional information to community decisions, taking both data and the personal experiences of community members into account.
Browse the full report on the UNLV School of Community Health Sciences website.
The HIA was made possible by a grant from the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts dedicated to promoting the use of health impact assessments in the United States. More information and a searchable map of HIA activity in the United States are available at www.healthimpactproject.org.
The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Health Impact Project, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation or The Pew Charitable Trusts.