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The key to lifelong health: Invest in the early years

Dec 3 2012

OTTAWA—Positive early child development is the foundation of lifelong health, but has been neglected on the public policy front for far too long, according the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) and Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (CACAP).

In a commentary published today in Paediatrics & Child Health, the organizations call on physicians to make early childhood development a priority in their practices and in their communities, by counselling parents on the importance of the early years and by advocating for greater investment by governments.   

“By focusing on the early years, we can promote health and prevent a whole host of problems in later life,” said Dr. Andrew Lynk, President-Elect of the CPS. “Not only are investments in early childhood development in the interest of parents and families, but as a society we stand to benefit tremendously.”

Children’s experiences during the early years can make them vulnerable to a host of illnesses in adulthood, including obesity, high blood pressure, depression, heart disease and diabetes. A recent report by an expert panel of the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences is part of a mounting body of scientific evidence showing the profound impact of early development on later life outcomes.

"The negative mental, emotional and social experiences of early child development are embedded into children's growing brains and bodies and predispose them to both physical and psychological illnesses," said Dr. Wade Junek, a past president of the CACAP. "We need to both identify and treat susceptible children from the earliest age and to monitor progress of Canadian society over the coming years to address these problems by the end of the preschool years."

Health professionals, such as paediatricians and family physicians, can play a critical role in ensuring children have a good start by assessing developmental health regularly and supporting parents. They can also educate decision-makers about the long-term benefits of family policy and continue to push for better investment in the early years.

The commentary—which is also supported by the College of Family Physicians of Canada—calls for federal and provincial/territorial policy that prioritizes young children and families and supports their development, stimulates the creation of supportive environments, and helps strengthen the relationships that protect children from adversity (such as chronic poverty, neglect, abuse, and family violence). Programs such as Ontario’s enhanced 18-month well-baby visit enable health professionals to make the time and space to promote early childhood development.

The Canadian Paediatric Society is a national professional association that promotes the health needs of children and youth. Founded in 1922, the CPS represents more than 3,000 paediatricians, paediatric subspecialists and other child health professionals across Canada.

The Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry was founded in 1980 as a national organization of professionals committed to advancing the mental health of infants, children, youth and families through promotion of excellence in care, advocacy, education, research and collaboration with other professionals.

Last updated: Dec 2 2012