New study supports earlier identification and intervention of childhood adversity

Children who experience traumatic events may be more likely to die prematurely, according to research from the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research and University College London.

The study is based on data on premature death rates and adverse experiences, such as neglect or parental separation, at ages 7, 11 and 16 from more than 15,000 people. The study is unique in that the adverse events had been recorded when the participants were children, and not as adult recollections of childhood experiences. 

After taking into account education level, social class, alcohol and tobacco use and psychological problems in early adulthood, the researchers found:

  • Women who suffered one adverse experience by the time they were 16-years-old were 66 percent more likely to die before turning 50 than those women who did not face adversity; with two or more adverse events, women were 80 percent more likely to die early
  • For men, the numbers were lower with a 57 percent increased risk of premature death if they had experienced two or more traumatic events

Author Mel Bartley, a professor at UCL, noted in a press release:

“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 of people.”

The study was published in BMC Public Health and can be read in full here.