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Early Childhood Experiences Shape Health and Well-Being Throughout Life

Children's economic and social conditions can directly affect their health.

Family income and education, neighborhood resources, and other social and economic factors affect health at every stage of life—but the effects on young children are particularly dramatic, 15 to 20 years of accumulated research shows. Those early years have the potential to set us on paths leading toward—or away from—good health.

What's more, the impact of these opportunities and obstacles, along with their health impacts, accumulate over time and can be transmitted across generations as children grow up and become parents themselves. In other words, social disadvantages in childhood—such as chronic stress—can lead to health disadvantages in adulthood.

All parents want the best for their children, but not all parents have the same resources to help their children grow up healthy. Parents’ education and income levels can create—or limit—opportunities to provide their children with nurturing and stimulating environments and to model healthy behaviors.

This issue brief explains in detail how economic and social conditions can directly influence child development, shaping their health throughout their lives. It also considers what can be done to help vulnerable children, based on the evidence of interventions that have been shown to work.