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Child disadvantage link to adult life

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 12/12/2016

Childhood disadvantage is a strong predictor of an adult's course of life, according to new findings arising from an Otago University study.

They suggest that a minority of the population accounts for a disproportionate share of health, criminal and social welfare costs.

They also indicate that paediatric tests of brain health can identify these adults when as young as age three.

Published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, the findings come out of the university's Dunedin Multidisciplinary Study, which has followed the progress of 1000 people born in the city in 1972-73.

The paper's authors say they are aware of the potential for misusing their conclusions.

"But there is no merit in blaming a person for economic burden following from childhood disadvantage," they said.

Instead, tackling the effects of childhood disadvantage through support for families and children could benefit all society by reducing costs.

With the participants' permission, an international research team, including study director Professor Richie Poulton, looked at government databases and electronic medical records.

They found that nearly 80 per cent of adult economic burden could be attributed to just 20 per cent of the study members.

This "high cost" group accounted for 81 per cent of criminal convictions, 66 per cent of welfare benefits, 78 per cent of prescriptions and 40 per cent of excess obese kilograms.

Prof Poulton said researchers also found members of this group could be identified with high accuracy when still young children.

At age three, each study participant took part in a paediatric examination. Looking back at the test results, the team found that a poor score was a good predictor of going on to be in the high cost group.

Those members also tended to have grown up in more socio-economically deprived environments, experienced child maltreatment, scored poorly in childhood IQ tests and exhibited low childhood self-control.

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