Chambers of commerce are uniquely poised to work with key education stakeholders and community service providers to ensure that young children receive the quality education and wellness care they need to be healthy and ready to learn by the time they reach kindergarten. By focusing on a community’s youngest residents, a chamber can not only ensure children are set on a positive trajectory to succeed in school and career, but also instill effective wellness habits that will shape their future health—and as an added bonus, help develop a talented and productive workforce capable of competing in the 21st century global market. According to a Duke University study, over a lifetime, childhood obesity costs $19,000 per child.1 Reducing childhood obesity and improving long-term well-being amounts to substantial health and economic benefits.
Workforce development starts with effective early childhood care and education. Ensuring that infants, children and teenagers are ready to learn is essential for them to be the workforce of tomorrow. Ready to learn means that children have the knowledge, skills and behavior to succeed in kindergarten.
However, socioeconomic status impacts whether children are ready to learn. Children who come from a disadvantaged background can start kindergarten as much as 18 months developmentally behind in comparison to their peers.1 This development gap is due, in part, to the additional resources and time for positive interactions that parents in upper and middle-class households are more likely to be able to provide. For example, the average child in a professional family has heard 30 million more words than the average child in a family on public assistance.2 Hearing words leads to better brain development and is a powerful indicator of overall academic success.
The differences between socioeconomic statuses persist in health as well. If a child isn’t healthy, he or she has a harder time concentrating and actively participating in school. Unhealthy children are also more likely to be absent from school. A study from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation states, “Children in impoverished families are prone to chronic stress that can contribute to mental and physical problems later in life, such as depression, anxiety, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.”3 Children coming from food insecure households—defined as unable to access or afford adequate food consistently— can experience delayed brain development, poor concentration, and poor ability to learn.4 This research demonstrates that showing up to school doesn’t guarantee success.