Children’s overall development during the first eight years of life is strongly affected by their health. Experiences during this time are often hardwired into their brains and bodies, forming the foundation for all subsequent health and development, including third grade reading outcomes.
Good health helps ensure that children are successful learners from birth. Healthy children are more likely to be physically, cognitively, socially, and emotionally ready for kindergarten, attend school consistently, and benefit from high-quality learning environments.
Comprehensive, integrated, high-quality health care can help prevent chronic, undiagnosed health issues, and manage chronic conditions that can be obstacles to learning.
Areas of children’s health that are known to impact third grade reading include:
- Prenatal substance exposure
- Lead exposure
- Oral health
- Early weight problems
- Physical activity
- Preventable health risks
What Can We Do About It?
What supports physical health?
- Creating a comprehensive, integrated statewide culture of health
- Ensuring equitable access to high quality health care
- Screening universally and providing treatment as needed
- Addressing non-medical family needs that impact health outcomes
What Works for Third Grade Reading: Physical Health
This brief considers why physical health matters for third grade reading proficiency, outlines its connection with other factors that impact early literacy, and highlights options that have been shown to move the needle on children’s social-emotional health outcomes. It is one of 12 new working papers that offer research-based policy, practice and program options to states and communities working to improve third grade reading proficiency.
Research Basis for Pathways Measures of Success Framework
This resource provides data definitions of the Measures of Success and shares the research for each measure, demonstrating the connections between the measures and third-grade reading proficiency. A list of sources is included for each group of measures.
Investing in North Carolina's Healthy Future
A fact sheet to highlights the interconnectedness of health and learning.
What Works for Third Grade Reading: An Overview of the NC Pathways to Grade-Level Reading
The paper provides an introduction to a series of 12 working papers that offer research-based policy, practice and program options to states and communities working to improve third grade reading proficiency. Read this document first before delving into the papers.
Related News Posts
More About Physical Health
These areas of children’s health are known to impact third grade reading outcomes
Prenatal Substance Exposure. Prenatal exposure to maternal smoking and use of alcohol, opioids and other drugs has been shown to effect children’s early development and elementary school performance. The impact of exposure before birth depends on the level and length of use and the substance involved. In general, however, prenatal substance exposure can result in deficits in mathematics and reading comprehension, written expression, and in emotional and behavioral challenges.1
Lead Exposure. Young children are at greater risk from lead exposure than adults because their brains are developing rapidly. Childhood exposure to lead, even at low levels, can impact reading readiness, cause brain damage that results in learning disabilities and decreased IQ, cause ADHD and lower school performance.2 Children become exposed to lead through contaminated drinking water or getting lead paint chips or dust in their mouths. Children of color and children from low-income families and communities are more likely to have lead exposure.3
Nutrition. Maternal malnutrition during pregnancy can undermine babies’ growth in the womb as well as children’s health and development after birth and even into adulthood.4 Nutrition during pregnancy in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life (two years) is critical for brain development. Malnourishment during this period may program long-term child and adult health risks, like obesity, hypertension and diabetes.5 Malnutrition in young children can negatively impact learning as well.6
Asthma. In North Carolina, nearly eight percent of the state’s population experiences asthma.7 It has become the leading chronic disease in childhood.8 Children and adults who experience asthma have to go to the doctor more often and use emergency rooms more frequently than others.9 Asthma is a significant contributor to chronic school absences, limiting children’s full participation in the school experience.10 Asthma is more common in children than adults and in boys than girls. The asthma rate for African Americans is 47 percent higher than for non-African Americans.11 The conditions that contribute to asthma in early childhood are well-known and are more prevalent in low-income neighborhoods and communities, which are disproportionately neighborhoods of color.12 Environmental asthma triggers that can be more prevalent in low-income homes and communities include allergens, such as dust mites, cockroaches, molds and rodents, as well as tobacco smoke, and indoor and outdoor air pollution.13
Oral Health. There are challenges to accessing dental care, including difficulty getting to a dentist’s office, prioritizing dental care among other needs, cost, and not having dental insurance. These challenges particularly impact people of color, those with chronic diseases, and those living with low income.14
Lack of access to care results in cavities and other dental problems. Nationally, four in ten children ages two to eight have untreated cavities15, and half of Medicaid-enrolled children go a full year without dental care.16 Even when insurance status is accounted for, children of color and those living in families with low income are less likely to receive preventive dental care. Among African-American and Hispanic children between ages two and eight, the rate of tooth decay has been found to be twice that of non-Hispanic white children.17 Children with poor oral health are three times more likely to miss school due to tooth pain. Dental pain impacts children from low-income families more than their peers: among elementary schoolers living in families with low income, those who report having a toothache in the past six months are six times more likely to have a low grade-point average.18
Early Weight Problems. Children who are obese are at greater risk for other health conditions including asthma. They also may experience social-emotional challenges like being bullied and feeling socially isolated and depressed.19
Physical Activity. Participation in moderate to vigorous physical activity has been found to improve physical and mental health among younger children, school-aged students and adults. Regular physical activity can assist in weight control, improve mental health, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and increase the likelihood of living longer.20 Among younger children, the benefits of physical activity include:
- Maintaining health weight
- Building strong bones and muscles
- Improving posture, balance, coordination, strength and self-confidence
- Reducing stress
- Promoting the development of social skills21
Preventable Health Risks. Specific preventable and treatable health conditions can impact young children’s school attendance, academic learning, and school success. When young children experience repeated stressful events in their lives without the buffer of a caring adult, it can change their brain architecture and stress response. These changes greatly increase the risks of long-term chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and alcoholism. Reducing the amount and severity of these Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can improve long-term health outcomes. Having access to needed health services and living in families and communities that support healthy outcomes22 increase the chances of good health during childhood and throughout life.23