One of Children's Hospital Colorado's core missions is to advocate on behalf of children's health and well-being. We are not only committed to restoring sick and injured children to health but to preserving their well-being as well. That is why we continue to invest time and resources into understanding what interventions most positively impact a child's physical, emotional and spiritual health.

As far back as the 1990's, scientific data were being published about how a child's brain develops and the importance of the first several years as a determinant of their ability to learn, grow and thrive. At birth, a newborn has 50 trillion connectors that transmit brain activity and function, called synapses. When that baby reaches his/her first year of life, as many as 1,000 trillion synapses have developed. Over the next few years, the brain continues to facilitate learning at a voracious pace. Interestingly, by the time a child reaches the age of 20, the number of synapses actually has reduced by 50%, to 500 trillion. By the time someone reaches my age one wonders how few synapses still remain. Clearly those first years of brain development are absolutely critical.

The old adage "use it or lose it" has never been truer when it comes to our children's brain development and consequently their success in school. All of us, educators and health policy-makers, tax payers, parents and employers MUST give serious consideration to those interventions that begin as early as possible. We can predict a child’s probability of completing high school based on their academic prowess by the time they are in third grade. It can also be a predictor as we become adults, whose health may be a significant source of reducing or conversely increasing this country’s health care expenditures. Stimulating brain development and offering exposure to early education are vitally important contributors to our children’s health and well-being. As such, opportunities to expand pre-school and Kindergarten access are critical interventions that we should pursue.

A paper by David M. Cutler, Harvard University and Adrianna Lleras-Nuney, Princeton University suggests that “educational policies have the potential to substantially improve health.”  Michael Grossman, a health economist at the City University of New York says, “If you were to ask me what affects health and longevity, I would put education at the top of the list”. In fact, study after study demonstrates that education directly impacts the health of children and the sooner that educational process begins, the better. 

As advocates for the health and well-being of our children, I believe we should invest our resources on those initiatives and policies that contribute to early brain development and early childhood education.  Whether you are considering a pre-school program, choosing a physician or casting a ballot, the impacts of early childhood development cannot be over-emphasized. There can be no greater investment.

I welcome your thoughts. Email me at dearjim@childrenscolorado.org.