Home | Health+Development | From age 3, researchers can predict who will become an obese criminal on welfare

From age 3, researchers can predict who will become an obese criminal on welfare

This week, cross-sector cat fights about ‘dole bludgers’ are back in the news. Fittingly, a study about the effects of early childhood experiences later in life, including in employment, simultaneously arrived.

Published in journal Nature Human Behaviour, the Duke University, North Carolina, research examined kids from birth to 11, and then again during adulthood, using data collected from a 4-decade study in Dunedin, New Zealand.

The researchers summarised their findings:

A segment comprising 22 per cent of the cohort accounted for 36 per cent of the cohort’s injury insurance claims; 40 per cent of excess obese kilograms; 54 per cent of cigarettes smoked; 57 per cent of hospital nights; 66 per cent of welfare benefits; 77 per cent of fatherless child-rearing; 78 per cent of prescription fills; and 81 per cent of criminal convictions.

Although this result in longitudinal cohort studies is nothing new, novel nuggets emerged. The same individuals were present in what the authors called “multiple service sectors”, and this was directly traceable to their early childhood records.

By “multiple service sectors”, the researchers are referring to categories like criminal convictions, welfare benefits or cigarettes smoked. From the age of just three, these people could be pinpointed by reference to their brain health assessment records. The assessments included criteria like socioeconomic background, experience of maltreatment, IQ and level of self-control.

Given the study’s striking results, the authors obliquely appealed for better early years intervention, based on politics-friendly economic grounds. They stated that this “could yield very large returns on investment”.

Whether justified in financial measures or not, any investment in children, especially vulnerable ones, is a sound one.

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