Will attending a Waldorf School improve our children’s health?

As a parent of children at the Waldorf School of Baltimore I can attest to the value of Waldorf Education, based on my experience with my own children and their classmates. Clearly, however, this judgement is based on anecdotal, subjective observations. As a scientist who gravitates towards claims supported by hard data I always seek research that supports my intuition about the value of Waldorf Education. Most often I search for research supporting the positive emotional, moral, cognitive and societal outcomes of this education.

I was intrigued to find recent research that supports the conclusion that Waldorf Education might improve our children’s health, and that these benefits may persist in their adulthood. This research was recently published in the prestigious, peer-reviewed journal PLOS One.

The rationale behind this study stems from claims that Waldorf Education promotes the development of sensory systems, as well as cardiac, respiratory and metabolic functions. Specifically, the balance of intellectual, aesthetic and motor activities in Waldorf Education is thought to promote both health, and healthier attitudes towards health.

The research describes a retrospective analysis of medical histories of 1,136 individuals that had attended Waldorf schools, and 1,746 comparable (that is, similar sex, age and geographical regions) students, all in Germany. (For a variety of reasons, retrospective studies such as this one are often less convincing than prospective studies, in which students are enrolled at a young age and tested periodically until adulthood.) The subjects were 20 to 80 years old when the survey was conducted.

After adjusting the results for some confounds—such as differences in sociodemographics and lifestyles—the researchers concluded that Waldorf graduates did not differ from the general population in most examined diseases, including high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer or diabetes. The only significant difference was that Waldorf graduates were less likely to suffer from arthritis and some allergies.

However, Waldorf graduates appeared to be significantly less burdened by multiple medical conditions. For example, they rated as less burdensome symptoms from low back pain, sleep disturbances, headaches, joint pain and gastrointestinal symptoms.

Waldorf school attendees also reported lower body mass index (BMI) and fewer days in hospitals within the last 12 months.

These intriguing findings suggest that Waldorf Education might result in benefits beyond the academic and social ones we commonly focus on.

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