“The end goal,” Alhassan says, “is to establish a proven intervention that can be easily integrated into preschool early education learning standards and help us to level the playing field.”
Social determinants of health have a major impact on people’s health, well-being and quality of life. In a broad sense, the conditions where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship and age affect a wide range of health, functioning and quality-of-life outcomes and risks, contributing to wide health disparities and inequities.
This is particularly evident in preschool-age children. Research has shown that being raised in a low socioeconomic environment contributes to higher-than-average levels of inattention and lower self-regulation in preschoolers, as well as lower performance in gross motor skills and cognition, such as executive function and memory.
These environmental disadvantages place young children at an increased risk for poor academic achievement and low physical activity levels, Alhassan explains.
“We know that low SES preschoolers also show slower gross motor skill development,” she says. “Gross motor skills form the building blocks for a healthy and active lifestyle since these skills must be mastered before the development of more complex motor skills. Physical activity, including gross motor skills learning, enhance neural development, particularly the development of areas associated with cognitive functions, including the frontal cortex and hippocampus.”
Alhassan will carry out the pilot project with funding from a two-year, $429,744 grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Participants at the preschools will be randomly assigned to either a movement and cognition (MAC) or a control group. Intervention activities will be embedded into the Massachusetts early learning standard and implemented by trained classroom teachers.
Alhassan will collect data on executive function and memory, gross motor skills and physical activity levels at baseline, three-month and six-month intervals. She’ll also examine the preliminary efficacy of the intervention by evaluating study fidelity and factors such as intervention dosage.