Smiling kids
July 24, 2019

Our earliest life experiences, including social support and exposure to adversity and trauma, shape prenatal and early childhood development and may have lifelong impacts on health. 

A new National Academies report released July 25, Vibrant and Healthy Kids: Aligning Science, Practice, and Policy to Advance Health Equity, applies the findings from the latest neurobiological and socio-behavioral research to inform programs and policies to support the healthy development of all U.S. children and mitigate the impacts of adverse experiences. 

Dr. Natalie Slopen, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, served on the 14-person expert committee that co-authored the comprehensive report. 

“A large amount of scientific evidence has accumulated over the past several decades,” says Dr. Slopen, an expert on social influences on health and the psychological and biological mechanisms through which adverse childhood experiences are linked to later chronic diseases. “But it isn’t being fully implemented into policies in a way that could better support child health.” 

The committee’s report was supported through the National Academy of Medicine’s Culture of Health Program, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Its members hold expertise in areas including psychology, applied economics and health policy. The report provides recommendations to eliminate early childhood health disparities in healthcare, education, and social and physical environments, among other areas, and bridge the gap between the latest science, practice and policy.

Natalie Slopen and Nadine Burke HarrisTo advance health equity from the prenatal period through early childhood (age 8), the report provides a roadmap to apply science to tailored interventions. It adds new scientific insights gained since the release of an earlier landmark Institute of Medicine report, From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development.

“In light of new scientific discoveries about how trauma and stress, as well as positive experiences, can alter one’s trajectory for healthy development, we can create better policies and systems to support our kids and promote health equity,” Dr. Slopen said. 

The report, Vibrant and Healthy Kids: Aligning Science, Practice, and Policy to Advance Health Equity, is available on Thursday, July 25, with a webinar featuring an overview of the report and discussion of the report’s findings, conclusions, recommendations and key messages.

Photo at right: Dr. Natalie Slopen (left), assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics in the UMD School of Public Health, and Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, a pediatrician who is the first and current Surgeon General of California since 2019. Slopen and Burke Harris both served on the NASEM committee that produced the Vibrant and Healthy Kids report and they shared its key findings at several congressional hearings on July 24 and 25, 2019. 


Related Links

Vibrant and Healthy Kids: Aligning Science, Practice, and Policy to Advance Health Equity

Report highlights

Report recommendations

Roadmap to apply the science of early development

Related People
Natalie Slopen