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Rural Health Information Hub

Overview of Early Childhood Health Promotion

Early childhood health promotion aims to keep children healthy with a focus on early interventions and implementing programs for the youngest children. The American Academy of Pediatrics defines early childhood as the time period from birth to age 8, noting that this critical stage is highlighted by some of the most significant growth and development for an individual. The early years of a child's life lay the foundation for future physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development.

Children's health and well-being is influenced by a variety of factors, including family characteristics, community dynamics, and other social determinants of health (SDOH). These include systems, policies, and environmental conditions in which children are born and grow up. For more information and definitions about SDOH and health disparities that populations face that impact health and well-being, see the Social Determinants of Health Toolkit.

The World Health Organization defines health promotion as:

“The process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health. It moves beyond a focus on individual behavior towards a wide range of social and environmental interventions.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that programs that focus on influencing and modifying certain health behaviors and outcomes from an early age can greatly impact health outcomes later in life. Some of these programs include a focus on:

  • Childhood obesity, especially programs in early childhood education settings
  • Healthy food options and nutrition
  • Physical activity
  • Chronic disease in childhood
  • Oral health
  • Healthy sleep habits
  • Access to age appropriate screening tests for development, hearing, and vision
  • Childhood trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) prevention

Health Promotion Frameworks

Health promotion and disease prevention models and frameworks can help rural communities implement early childhood health promotion strategies. Health promotion models describe different factors that interact to result in health behaviors which can drive health outcomes. Programs may use several frameworks to help meet the needs of rural communities and address health outcomes. These examples are described in the Rural Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Toolkit, and include:

Life Course Health Model

The American Academy of Pediatrics also developed and adapted a model of health and disease that shows how the social and physical environment interact with children's biology to impact how children develop. These interactions drive behaviors and health outcomes. This model is based on multiple research studies showing that many adult diseases stem from childhood issues. Factors such as poverty and exposure to negative experiences and stressors during childhood can have lasting impacts directly on the body and indirectly on health behaviors. Poverty is more prominent in rural areas, and children living in poverty are more likely to experience negative health outcomes, such as obesity.

The Life Course Framework and models of lifecourse health development show how the environment, biology, and behaviors of both parents and children interact to influence health. The Life Course Framework shows that maternal and prenatal influences can impact health before a child is born and early experiences can have a lasting effect. Researchers who developed this framework outline several important elements:

  • Health outcomes are greatly influenced by experiences that occur during several important points during early childhood development
  • These experiences over time influence adult health and well-being
  • Physical, environmental, and social influences on children and families can introduce risks to health and well-being or can serve as a way to protect against negative experiences

Resources to Learn More

Lifelong Health
Provides information about the importance of early childhood health and its impact across the lifespan.
Organization(s): Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University