The Health Component of Head Start: Potential Impacts on Childhood Obesity, Immunizations, and Dental Health
Banda, Tanya Y.
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Head Start, an early intervention program administered by the Administration for Children and Families of the Department of Health and Human Services, offers children of low-income families comprehensive services in an effort to even the playing field with their more advantaged peers upon entering kindergarten. Despite the many areas that Head Start addresses, evaluative efforts continuously focus primarily on cognitive gains as a result of Head Start as an intervention. This study examined the potential long-term effects of the health component of Head Start. More specifically, the study investigated whether Head Start impacts a family?s ability to make positive changes in the home in the way of preventive health measures with regard to childhood obesity, immunizations, and dental health, three important areas of childhood health. Participants in the research study included children enrolled in Head Start between 2004 and 2006, and children on the waiting list within the same time. Followup interviews were conducted with families in both groups that inquired about health behaviors specifically related to childhood obesity, immunizations, and dental health. The Head Start (HS) Group and Waiting List Control (WLC) Group were compared to determine if Head Start made a difference in a family?s probability of engaging in more proactive health measures. Responses of the HS Group were also compared with responses from their initial health assessment upon enrolling in Head Start to determine if they demonstrate positive changes. Results did not support hypotheses, and in many instances the WLC Group demonstrated better proactive health measures than the HS Group. Because of operational difficulties, there is limited inference about the impact of the Head Start program. Possible contributors to the results include a small sample size due to the mobility of the target population and overrepresentation of Hispanic children in the study. Limited differences observed between the HS and WLC groups confirms the importance of further investigating the long-term impact of Head Start in areas other than cognitive gains.