Children in poorer families more likely to have later health issues

ESRI finds childhood environment has life-long effects on well-being

Risk of obesity at age three is 75 per cent higher for children whose families are in the bottom half of the income distribution. Photo: iStockphoto

Risk of obesity at age three is 75 per cent higher for children whose families are in the bottom half of the income distribution. Photo: iStockphoto

 

Children in the lowest bracket of income are 230 per cent more likely to be obese at age three, according to new research which will be published today at a conference hosted by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

The conference is called The Long Shadow of Childhood Adversity on Health: Evidence from Ireland and Policy Implications, and the findings are based on the Growing Up in Ireland Study and the National Longitudinal Study of Ageing.

According to the research, child birth weight decreases in line with family income – but the risk of obesity at age three is 75 per cent higher for children whose families are in the bottom half of the income distribution.

The ESRI last night said the findings show childhood environment has “life-long effects” on physical and psychological well-being. It also contributes to chronic illness in later life.

Another key finding is that the risk of “serious emotional and behavioural problems” at age nine is twice as high in the bottom half of the income distribution. These issues “contribute significantly” to educational failure.

Furthermore, growing up in poor households increases the risk of cardiovascular disease in later life by over a fifth. A similar pattern is found for psychiatric problems such as depression and anxiety.

Infancy and childhood often represent a “critical period” after which remedial treatment can be both “less effective and increasingly expensive”, the research says.

“Equality of opportunity for children is permanently undermined if they begin their lives at a disadvantage in terms of physical, psychological, emotional and social well-being.

“This research adds to growing international evidence that shows how children’s early life environments determine not only their physical health and risk of disease – but may also contribute to criminality, educational failure, family breakdown and mental health.”

The ESRI also suggest a number of policy implications, and say it would be “more effective” as well as “cheaper” to tackle the causes of health and social problems rather than focusing resources on services to deal with the consequences.

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