HealthDay News — Children enrolled in the United States preschool Head Start program tend to have a healthier weight by kindergarten compared with similarly aged children not in the program, results of a study published in Pediatrics suggest.

To determine if Head Start participation was associated with healthy changes in body mass index (BMI), Julie Lumeng, MD, of the University of Michigan Center for Human Growth and Development in Ann Arbor, and colleagues examined data from 43,748 pre-school aged children between 2005 and 2013.

More than 19,000 pre-school aged children were enrolled in head Start — 5,400 of whom were on Medicaid — came from two primary health-care groups.

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At the study’s start, about one-third of the Head Start children were obese or overweight, compared to 27% of those on Medicaid and fewer than 20% of children not on Medicaid. In their first year in Head Start, obese and overweight children lost weight faster compared with the two comparison groups of children who weren’t in the program, found the investigators. Similarly, underweight children gained weight faster.

“Preschool-aged children with an unhealthy weight status who participated in Head Start had a significantly healthier BMI by kindergarten entry age than comparison children in a primary care health system (both those receiving and those not receiving Medicaid),” concluded the researchers.


  1. Lumeng J et al. Pediatrics. 2015; doi: 10.1542/peds.2014-1725