• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Friday 08th June, 2007

New Zealand study shows how chickens may come home to roost

First evidence that there may be a link between anti-social behavior in childhood and poor physical health in adulthood is emerging from a long-term study of men in their thirties in South Island, New Zealand. Findings from the Dunedin longitudinal study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry add to the well-established evidence on the negative social consequences of childhood mental health problems, particularly with respect to crime, poor job prospects and adult disorders.Candice Odgers and colleagues are following the careers of 500 men born in 1972 and 1973. Their research shows that persistent antisocial behaviour in childhood can be linked to injury, sexually transmitted diseases, cardiovascular risk, immune function, and dental disease in adulthood.Persistently antisocial boys, for example, were 2.9 times more likely to be above the clinical cut-off for C-reactive protein, a marker of later heart disease and stroke. They were 2.2 times more likely to have contracted the herpes virus, and over three times more likely to have symptoms of chronic bronchitis and gum disease.The findings apply to both early onset and late onset sub-types of anti-social behavior brought to notice by studies based on the Dunedin dataset. However, the health of young men whose antisocial behavior did not start until they reached adolescence seems to have been less compromised. Those whose anti-social behaviour started early but declined in adolescence fared best. For this group – a quarter of the cohort – the risks were much reduced.Dr Odgers worked with colleagues at the London Institute of Psychiatry and the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit at the University of Otago, New Zealand. Her team's findings confirm the significant benefits of preventing antisocial behavior not only among the children involved, but also in relation to the demand on adult health, justice and social services. And the impact is felt not only by the children as they grow up, but also by their wives and children.• about the studyThe Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study follows 1,037 children born between the 1st of April 1972 and the 31st of March 1973 in Dunedin, New Zealand and still living in the Otago region three years later. The children were assessed at ages three, five, seven, nine, 11, 13, 15, 18 and 21. In adulthood, the sample has been followed up at 26, and 32. A great strength of the study has been the small number of drop-outs; 96% of the original intake were involved in the last sweep at the age of 32.Related studies have looked at the parents and children of study members, creating data across three generations of the same families. Data collection has included physical examination, blood tests and surveys. The study has been determinedly multi-disciplinary with information ranging across physical health, mental health and psycho-social functioning. Over 1,000 papers, reports, book chapters and other publications have so far been based on the findings.

Back to Archives