August 4, 2021

Groundwork Ohio: Quality Birth-To-Five Investment is Powerful Prevention Policy

Shannon Jones
The health of our state depends on the healthy development of our youngest and most vulnerable children.

The earliest years of a child’s life are a critical time when brain development creates the foundation for future intellectual, emotional, social, and physical development. By the age a 5, a child’s brain is already 90 percent developed. It is no surprise, then, that infants and toddlers who are born healthy, grow and develop in healthy environments, and have access to quality health care services have better physical, emotional, and mental health throughout their lives.

Unfortunately, not all infants and toddlers get a strong start in life. We see this play out in Ohio in many ways: Too many babies are born prematurely or are not reaching their first birthday. Many other young children experience trauma and adversity – such as a parent with substance use disorder or a household struggling with frequent economic hardship – which can affect a child’s mental health, physical health, and health behaviors well into adulthood. Meanwhile, many Ohio kids are entering kindergarten woefully behind, potentially leading to a lifetime of problems – first in school, then on the job and in life.

The undeniable and sobering truth is that some children are much more likely to start behind than others. While these children include those living in poverty, poverty alone does not tell the whole story. Race and rural geography also play a determinative role in these gaps. More often than not, gaps that emerge early continue to grow over time and lead to expensive problems throughout an individual’s life.

However, by investing in quality birth-to-five interventions, we can reduce the need for costly health, behavioral, and educational interventions down the road – all while improving outcomes for Ohio’s infants, toddlers, and their families.

The research is clear: early health, nutrition, and education interventions for infants and toddlers produce dramatic long-term health benefits. While this is true for all young children, it is especially true for Ohio’s most at-risk children. Research shows that disadvantaged children who receive quality early interventions have significantly better health as adults, are at far lower risk for serious cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, and have better health behaviors in adulthood. An analysis from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health also shows thatinvestments in early childhood health could save society $65 billion in future health care costs.

In other words, getting everything right the first time around is a lot easier and less expensive than trying to fix it later. Investing in children during the first five years of life is powerful prevention policy for Ohio’s most at-risk kids, preventing chronic disease and reducing health care costs throughout their adult lives.

Think of it like this: Either you pay a few cents for a parking meter now or you pay for an expensive ticket later. You can buy a low-cost smoke detector today or pay far more to rebuild a home after a tragic house fire. We can invest in young children now or pay later in costly and complex mental and physical health problems.

Not only do quality early interventions help infants and toddlers grow into healthier adults, but early investments also deliver a high return on public investment. In fact, research shows that high-quality birth-to-five programs deliver a 13% return on investment each year. Simply put: The earlier we invest, the higher the return.

The health of our state depends on the healthy development of our youngest and most vulnerable children. Either we invest now, or we will pay significantly more later. By investing when it matters most – during the earliest and most formative years of a young child’s life – we can create healthier kids who, ultimately, become healthier adults.

Groundwork Ohio is a committed, nonpartisan public-policy research and advocacy organization that champions high-quality early learning and healthy development strategies from the prenatal period to age five, that lay a strong foundation for Ohio kids, families, and communities. To learn more about Groundwork Ohio or to connect with the Groundwork team, please visit and follow Groundwork on social media at @GroundworkOhio.

You are also invited to join Ready, Set, Soar Ohio, a statewide coalition committed to ensuring that more pregnant women, infants, toddlers, and their families have access to the support they need to soar to their full potential. Learn more at and on social media at @ReadySetSoarOH