Child age at exposure to negative experiences influences outcomes


  • Dawn O'Shea
  • Univadis Medical News
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Negative experiences in early adolescence are more strongly associated with later adverse outcomes than exposure at other points in childhood, suggests a study in JAMA Network Open.

The cohort study used population data for Danish individuals born between 1987 and 1995 to examine exposure to six household dysfunction items (HDIs) - unemployment, incarceration, mental disorders, death, and divorce and the child’s foster care experiences.

The main outcomes were mental disorders, low educational attainment, disconnection from education and the labour market, and criminal charges.

The study sample included 605,344 individuals, of whom 278,115 were exposed to ≥1 HDI.

Exposure was most prevalent at one year of age (11.3%). Parental unemployment was the most common HDI (15.5%).

The risk of experiencing the four outcomes was associated with the number of HDIs. Experiencing one HDI between birth and 17 years was associated with 1 per cent increased risk of adverse outcomes.

Exposure during early adolescence was more strongly associated with adverse outcomes than exposure during early childhood.

The results suggest that exposure to negative experiences in early adolescence are more strongly associated with later adverse outcomes than exposure at other points in childhood. These findings are important for policymakers who need to prioritise resources targeting disadvantaged children and youths.