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The Key to Better Health? A Good Book

December 13, 2013

Reading is good for your mind, of course, but Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., wants you to know that it’s also good for your health.

DPH Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., celebrated reading with a pre-school class in Carrollton, Ga., during Pre-K Week.

On Oct. 4, Fitzgerald shared her love of reading with 3- and 4-year-old students at the Bridge Learning Center in Carrollton, Ga., for Pre-K Week, a celebration of early child learning. Why is the state health officer so passionate about books? Reading, and its vital role in education, has a strong connection to better health.

“Of all the things we look at that affect health besides genetics, education is probably one of the most important -- the education that allows our children to graduate from high school,” Fitzgerald said.

A host of scientific studies have linked various health outcomes with a person’s level of education, particularly whether or not he or she has a high school diploma. The American Public Health Association calls lack of education one of the social determinants of poor health. According to some studies, people who graduate from high school live six to nine years longer than those who don’t.

They tend to live healthier as well. People with more education have lower risk of heart disease and are less likely to smoke, drink heavily and be overweight, according to the National Poverty Center. Data from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) show that children from families whose heads of household had at least a high school education had lower rates of obesity than their peers. Researchers say part of the difference lies in the opportunities available to those with more education.

“Highly educated persons are more likely to be employed and well-paid than the less educated. They have a higher sense of control over their health and lives and more social support,” said the authors of the NCHS report. “In addition, the well-educated are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors and avoid unhealthy ones.”

Steps toward a good education begin at an early age. According to child advocacy group Voices for Georgia’s Children, 90 percent of a child’s brain develops within the first five years of life. Reading, even in the first weeks of childhood, is one of the most important ways parents and caregivers can shape that development. In fact, experts note that not reading to a child outside of school contributes to lower student achievement in school.

“Literacy is enormously important. And the research shows that how literate a child is by third grade is the best predictor of if he’ll graduate from high school or not,” Fitzgerald said. “So the important thing is to read to your children, talk to your children, use words every single day. A baby needs to hear a million words from you, his mother or his daddy, by his first birthday.”

Find out what else Fitzgerald had to say about reading in this video: