Newly developed statistical strategies, such as growth curve analysis, provide promising ways to test dynamic models of health and health influences using longitudinal data. Here the needs are twofold: (1) to support efforts to develop these models so that they can be applied to conceptual advances in understanding influences on children’s health and (2) to support efforts to train new and existing cohorts of researchers in these methods.
Finally, there is a great need for research that can translate what are potentially effective measures used primarily for research purposes into wider application for population health measurement and policy development. At present there is an enormous gap between what can be measured in controlled research environments and what is currently applicable for population and more general health measurement uses. Bridging this gap requires research that can address conceptual, methodological, and technical hurdles, many of which the committee has identified. These hurdles are eminently addressable but require dedicated resources, attention, commitment, and collaboration among researchers and public officials and agencies that could benefit from a more comprehensive and integrated measurement system and resources.
Much progress has been made over the past century in understanding the special attributes of children and the importance of their healthy development to the health of the population as a whole. Nevertheless, in the United States, the current failure to adequately consider, define, conceptualize, and measure the dynamic and multidimensional aspects of children’s health has profound implications for the entire population, with potentially compromising effects on the nation’s health. It is time—arguably overdue—to repurpose efforts at the federal, state, and local levels to focus on the nation’s most valuable national resource—children. The reasons for and the steps involved in this establishment of children and their health as a national priority have been described in this report; in short, it is time to develop ways of looking at and assessing children that will demand that the nation nurture and develop their inherent richness and potential across the multitude of geographic, racial, cultural, socioeconomic, and developmental spectrums. This effort requires a shared vision from local communities through the highest levels of national government and should be treated as an urgent national priority.