|Early Supplementary Feeding and Cognition (Society for Research in Child Development, 1993, 123 pages)|
|III. Conceptual rationale for the follow-up|
Data on the developmental consequences of early educational interventions for children raised in poverty were relevant to the hypothesis of the follow-up for at least two reasons. First, the nutritional and the educational intervention studies shared similar theoretical views concerning developmental continuity, and, second, the latter offered a unique opportunity to examine the effects of early experience on adolescent outcomes.
The genesis of the early education programs in the United States was related to the claims made in the 1960s that the prevalence of poverty and malnutrition in the United States was much higher than had been thought. This concern was intensified when behavioral scientists recognized that the cognitive and socioemotional development of children was at risk after exposure to such conditions. One response to this concern was the creation of Head Start, which had as its primary objective the prevention of adverse developmental effects associated with life in poverty.
Important theoretical similarities exist between the attempts to foster mental development through early supplementary feeding and through preschool educational interventions. The contention was that exposure to risk factors such as malnutrition and poor home environment would in part determine the course of human development. However, it was also assumed that the developmental deficits associated with poverty could be prevented by such social and political programs as WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) and Head Start. In line with these views of developmental continuity was the notion of critical periods; the concern among behavioral scientists was that changing the course of an individual's development would be more difficult after it had been set by adverse early experiences.
Among the early intervention programs begun during this period, some of the most influential have been the 11 studies conducted by the Consortium for Longitudinal Studies (1983). These preschool cognitively oriented interventions led to moderate IQ gains in early childhood, at the time when the children were about to enroll in kindergarten. However, evaluations conducted 2-3 years later yielded disappointing results. The IQ gains that had been observed had either declined or disappeared, so the benefits seemed to have been short lived (Bronfenbrenner, 1974, 1979). Given these results, the findings of a subsequent follow-up (conducted in 1975) were surprising: although the previously reported decline in IQ was maintained, new benefits emerged. Assessments of grade retention in school, special education placement, school attendance, health, juvenile delinquency rates, and adolescent pregnancies showed that the experimental subjects fared better than the controls.
The data generated by these early education programs provided additional indirect support for the hypothesis we intended to test. Taken together with the data on early nutritional intervention, they provided strong support for the contention that the hypothesis we proposed did merit testing.