Childhood aggression is strongly linked to poorer health in adults and to higher use of health services, according to a new study in the CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).
Experts from the University of Warwick were asked to comment on research conducted by researchers from Université de Sherbrooke and Concordia University, Quebec, the University of California (Davis) and the University of Ottawa who looked at data to determine the impact of childhood aggression on health service usage in adulthood.
Aggression in childhood has been linked to health risks such as unprotected sex, teen pregnancy and single motherhood, dropping out of school, poverty and dangerous driving.
The researchers found childhood aggression resulted in an 8.1% increase in medical visits, a 10.7% increase in injuries and a 44.2% increase in lifestyle-related illnesses (e.g. obesity, type 2 diabetes, alcohol dependence), 6.2% increase in visits to specialists and 12.4% more visits to emergency departments. People with lower levels of education were also more likely to use health services.
In a related commentary, Professor Sarah Stewart-Brown, Chair of Public Health at Warwick Medical School, says that while other studies have reported the link between childhood aggression and later health; this is the first to attempt to quantify the consequences of this link in terms of the use of health services.
She said: “The biological hypothesis here is that childhood aggression is a response to a stressful environment and that overexposure to stress during childhood patterns the stress response in a way that could interfere with normal physiologic processes and predispose people to lifestyles that include such risk factors as the misuse of drugs and alcohol as a means of providing short-term relief from stress.”
The most important environmental stressor for children and young people is problem relationships in the home. The quality of peer relationships and school ethos also determine the level of stress children experience.
Professor Stewart-Brown notes that while school programmes to help children improve their social and emotional skills are important, evidence shows that initiatives which help parents with their parenting are the intervention that could bring about most change.
The authors of the report went on to say: “Our results confirm that there are specific behavioural characteristics, identifiable in childhood, that can have enduring consequences to physical health and can predict increased use of health services in adulthood.
For the full article in the CMAJ:
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The Concordia Longitudinal Risk Project involved 3913 people who were in grades 1, 4 and 7 from 1976 to 1978 and who received health care in Quebec between 1992 and 2006.