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August 31, 2004

Prescription for a Healthy Child:
Read to Them at an Early Age

Penn Pediatric Literacy Program
Receives $6,000 Renewal Grant

(Philadelphia, PA) – Four years and 400 children later, family physician Ian Bennett, MD, PhD, and his colleagues are continuing to teach parents that, by reading to their children, they help enhance their children’s health, as well as their future educational achievements. “It’s really important for a child to be read to everyday because their health may be related to how well they learn to read. This is the best thing a parent or guardian can do to help their child get prepared for school,” explains Dr. Bennett, Assistant Professor of Family Practice & Community Medicine at Penn’s School of Medicine. “Reading to children is the best thing to do to help them get prepared for school.”

Under the auspices of the ‘Penn Family Care Reads’ program – which was launched by Bennett in 2001 – the physicians’ literacy-promotion efforts just received a $6,000 one-year renewal grant from ‘First Book, Philadelphia LAB’ – a member of ‘First Book,’ which is a national, non-profit advisory board that recommends reading projects for funding. This the third consecutive year ‘First Book, Philadelphia LAB’ has provided funding for the program.

According to Bennett, the purpose of the ‘Penn Family Care Reads’ project is to encourage parents – especially those not in the culture of reading – to read to their children at least 15 to 20 minutes a day, starting at age 6 months or earlier. In addition to providing many educational benefits, the program, says Bennett, may be considered “ an early medical intervention” – because studies have shown that adults who cannot read well have poorer health outcomes than those who can read well. “We are hopeful, therefore, that this program will lead to better health for these children in their adulthood,” he adds.

The $6,000 renewal grant allows the ‘Penn Family Care Reads’ program to earn credits to buy books, at a discounted rate, from the Scholastic Organization. Penn Family Practice doctors then distribute age-appropriate books to parents/guardians and kids during a well-child visit, a routine physical exam. At this time, doctors dispense prescriptions to the parents/guardians advising them that they need to read to their children. Penn physicians will counsel parents/guardians on how to best stimulate an interest in reading in their children. A total of 12 books will be distributed to the children and their parents/guardians over the course of their preschool years, through first grade or about age 5.

"We expect to reach an additional 200 children this year alone as a result of ‘First Book's’ renewal funding," says Bennett. "By sharing the joy of reading with their children, parents are laying the foundation for their children's lives. It not only stimulates a life-long love of learning, but may lead to improved health outcomes."

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PENN Medicine is a $2.5 billion enterprise dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and high-quality patient care. PENN Medicine consists of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System (created in 1993 as the nation’s first integrated academic health system).

Penn’s School of Medicine is ranked #3 in the nation for receipt of NIH research funds; and ranked #4 in the nation in U.S. News & World Report’s most recent ranking of top research-oriented medical schools. Supporting 1,400 fulltime faculty and 700 students, the School of Medicine is recognized worldwide for its superior education and training of the next generation of physician-scientists and leaders of academic medicine.

Penn Health System is comprised of: its flagship hospital, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, consistently rated one of the nation’s “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation's first hospital; Presbyterian Medical Center; a faculty practice plan; a primary-care provider network; two multispecialty satellite facilities; and home health care and hospice.

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