childhood experiences are linked to an increased risk of early death, according
to new research using data from the 1958 National Child Development Study.
The research, led
by the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM), in collaboration with the ESRC
International Centre for Lifecourse Studies in Society and Health at UCL, found
that men and women who had suffered adversity in childhood were more likely to
die before age of 50 than those who had not.
researchers compared premature death rates among more than 15,000 people to
their experiences of adversity at ages 7, 11 and 16. This included spending
time in care, suffering from neglect, parental separation or having a family
member in prison.
the likelihood of dying before age 50 increased with the amount of adversity
they had suffered in childhood. Women who had suffered one negative experience
by age 16 were 66 per cent more likely to die before the age of 50 than those
who had not faced any adversity. Women who had two or more adverse experiences
in childhood had an 80 per cent increased risk of premature death.
This work on early psychological trauma and premature death adds a whole new dimension to public health. It shows that if we are going to ensure better health in the population the work needs to begin early in life to support children experiencing severe adversities.
Professor Mel Bartley, ESRC International Centre for Lifecourse Studies at UCL
Men who had
suffered two or more traumatic events in childhood were 57 per cent more likely
to die by the time they were 50 than those who had not experienced any
adversity growing up.
association between childhood adversity and premature death remained even after
taking into account factors such as education level and social class, alcohol
and tobacco use, and psychological problems in early adulthood.
researchers note that some causes of death in early adult life are related to
mental stress, such as suicide or addiction to alcohol or drugs. However, they
also suggest that children who suffer severe stress may experience imbalances
in their hormone and immune systems that impact on their physical development
and later health.
For the first
time in any study, the longitudinal nature of the data made it possible to link
the risk of early death to experiences of adversity that have been recorded
during childhood, rather than relying on adult recollections of early life
Professor Mel Bartley, one of the UCL authors of the study, says: "Our
Centre has been collaborating with public health researchers at INSERM
to enable them to
use unique British birth cohort data to test their ideas.
"This work on early
psychological trauma and premature death adds a whole new dimension
to public health. It shows that if we are going to ensure better health
in the population the work needs to begin early in life to support children
experiencing severe adversities. Many people have suspected this
but until now we have not had such high quality evidence from such a large cohort
Media contact: David Weston