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Prev Chronic Dis. 2013 Oct 31;10:E181. doi: 10.5888/pcd10.130171.

The physical and mental health of Head Start staff: the Pennsylvania Head Start staff wellness survey, 2012.

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Temple University, Center for Obesity Research and Education, 3223 North Broad St, Ste 175, Philadelphia, PA 19140. E-mail:



Despite attention to the health of low-income children in Head Start, little is known about the health of adults working for the program. The objective of our study was to compare the physical and mental health of women working in Pennsylvania Head Start programs with the health of US women who have similar sociodemographic characteristics.


We used data from a web-based survey in 2012 in which 2,199 of 3,375 (65.2%) staff in 66 Pennsylvania Head Start programs participated. For the 2,122 female respondents, we determined the prevalence of fair or poor health status, frequent (≥14 d/mo) unhealthy days, frequent (≥10 d/y) work absences due to illness, diagnosed depression, and 3 or more of 6 physical health conditions. We compared these prevalences with those found in 2 national samples of employed women of similar age, education, race/ethnicity, and marital status.


Among Head Start staff, 85.7% were non-Hispanic white, 62.4% were married, and 60.3% had completed college. The prevalence (% [95% confidence interval]) of several health indicators was higher in Head Start staff than in the national samples: fair or poor health (14.6% [13.1%-16.1%] vs 5.1% [4.5%-5.6%]), frequent unhealthy days (28.3% [26.3%-30.2%] vs 14.5% [14.1%-14.9%]), diagnosed depression (23.5% [21.7%-25.3%] vs 17.6% [17.1%-18.0%]), and 3 or more physical health conditions (21.8% [20.0%-23.6%] vs 12.6% [11.7%-13.5%]).


Women working with children in Head Start programs have poorer physical and mental health than do US women who have similar sociodemographic characteristics.

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