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article imageBad Kids Make Unhealthy Adults

By Carolyn E. Price     Apr 7, 2007 in Health
An internationally-acclaimed, long-term study conducted in New Zealand has found that antisocial behavior that is not dealt with in childhood leads to poor health later in life.
The study was conducted at the Otago University and it followed one thousand people in Dunedin since their births in 1972 and 1973. It has linked antisocial behavior in childhood and poor physical health in adulthood.
The findings are to be published this week in the American journal Archives of General Psychiatry and they are a collaboration between the Dunedin research unit and the University of London.
Unit director and paper co-author Professor Richie Poulton says that there have been many other studies that have shown that childhood antisocial behavior leads to crime in adulthood as well as mental disorders, but this was the first study of its kind to show a direct link between antisocial behavior in kids with poor physical health in adults.
The types of physical health problems that were most commonly found in the adults were injuries, sexually transmitted diseases, dental disease, reduced immune function, and an increased risk of heart disease.
The study tracked 526 males through childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood. The most recent assessments were done when the study participants were 32 years old.
The study found the following: boys whose antisocial behavior persisted into adulthood were more than three times as likely as others to have symptoms of chronic bronchitis and gum disease, 2.9 times more likely to show markers for later heart disease and stroke, and 2.2 times more likely to have the herpes virus.
Professor Poulton reported that males who showed high levels of antisocial behavior when they were kids but the behavior declined in adulthood did not have the same level of poor health. "You're talking about kids in the sandpit at preschool fighting and bullying each other, and by 13, these kids are converting cars and by 18, they're bashing people and raping people. That's the sort of development of this hard core antisocial behaviour. It's early onset and persistent - in order words, there's a whole bunch of kids who are naughty during childhood but they don't persist. They grow out of it. We're talking about the 10 per cent of males who are identifiable early, with a whole bunch of risks, and who continue to behave in an antisocial way over their life."
Professor Poulton said these findings were consistent with other indicators of poor health, such as being in a low socio-economic grouping and that the findings could assist the justice and health system because if they were able to lessen antisocial behavior early in a child’s life, it could stop future crime, violence and reduce over burdened healthcare systems.
"You have this hard core of 10 per cent males, and then you've got the 25 per cent who exhibit antisocial behaviour during childhood but grow out of it. It's the real tough test - if you want to intervene early, which ones are the ones that are going to go on [to offend in adulthood]? We're really at the pointy end of that particular research endeavor."
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