5 Ways Reading Matters to
Kids’ Health

by Dr. Laura Bailet

Photo credit: Andrew Rich, E+ Collection/ Getty Images

Reading and health go hand in hand throughout life. The road to becoming a happy reader and healthy kid starts at birth, and the benefits last a lifetime.

1. Reading is the single strongest predictor of adult health status. Research shows that your reading level is a powerful predictor of your health as an adult. It helps determine your academic success, job opportunities, and income. These, in turn, impact your access to good health insurance, high-quality health care, and whether you live in a healthier neighborhood. If you are a confident reader, you also will take a more active role in learning about and managing your own and your family’s health and advocating for your needs within health systems, which will make all of you healthier.

2. Reading difficulty is a major child health concern. Learning to read is an important childhood milestone, just like learning to walk and talk. When a child struggles with reading, it can effect learning, behavior, emotions, and even physical health. Think about the stress that comes from knowing you don’t read as well as your classmates, and thinking that you must be stupid. That’s what kids tell us goes through their minds when they struggle with reading. That stress causes anxiety that may lead to headaches, stomachaches, or other physical complaints. As a parent, you may take your child to doctors, get medical tests, or try medications, when the source of the problem is actually reading challenges.

3. Reading readiness screening is an important part of developmental monitoring. The brain foundation for future reading success starts building from birth, through lots of talking, reading, singing, and playing with your child. Just like hearing and vision, checking your child’s reading readiness progress, starting at age three, is an important health activity. If your child is on track, you will be reassured that you are doing the right things to help her prepare for future reading success. If she is behind, you will have time to target reading readiness skills more directly and help her catch up. The earlier any delay is addressed, the easier it is to fix the problem and avoid bigger issues down the road.

4. Reading helps kids cope with medical problems. Reading is a great way to learn about a medical problem you are facing, and many children’s books are written for this purpose. Reading with your young child about characters facing similar health problems can help him feel less alone, understand the problem and aspects of treatment, and learn positive coping strategies. Older, independent readers can do this on their own, or take turns reading with you to get through challenging vocabulary and concepts, and feel your emotional support.

5. Books are great companions for sick days. When your child needs to rest indoors while sick, books can help fill the time, bring new places, characters, and experiences into his world, and, if you are reading together, offer special bonding opportunities.


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