Lifestyle choices — what you eat, how much you exercise — may not be the only forecaster of health later in life. A study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal finds that behavior in childhood, such as aggression and social withdrawal, could predict more sickness in adulthood.
The study, released Nov. 14, followed 3,913 children from 1976 to 1978 when they were in grades one, four and seven, through 1992 to 2006. Researchers discovered that displaying aggression in childhood was linked with an 8.1 percent increase in medical visits, a 44.2 percent rise in lifestyle-related illnesses and conditions such as obesity, alcohol dependence and Type 2 diabetes, and a 10.7 percent increase in injuries. That behavior was also associated with 12.4 percent more emergency room visits and a 6.2 percent boost in trips to see specialists.
For girls, childhood aggression was linked with more gynecological visits from ages 18 to 23, although that association wasn’t seen when the women were age 29 to 34.
Dr. Patrick Withrow, chief medical officer at Western Baptist Hospital, said though he’s not a pediatrician, he has seen health problems in adults and heard anecdotes that could relate to aggressive behavior.
“People who are aggressive as kids tend to have a correlation with their family environment,” Withrow said. “They may have parents that have poor coping skills and develop poor coping skills themselves. This can lead to behaviors like over-eating, alcoholism and drug abuse that can cause poor health as an adult.”
Other types of behavior in youth had an impact on health in adulthood. Being socially withdrawn was linked with an increased number of dental visits later in life; researchers think this could be due to lower socioeconomic status or shyness, which could lead to being hesitant about seeing a dentist, ultimately requiring more emergency visits. With popularity, however, came some benefits: being more likable in school was associated with less use of health services later on, suggesting that these people had less risky behavior and more peer support that could relieve stress.
Dr. Kathryn Glass, a primary care physician at Lourdes, said behavioral disorders that develop in childhood often carry over into adulthood. Though not visible at the workplace, they may be seen in recreational activities.
“With something like ADD, people may take greater risks over the weekend, like participate in extreme sports and risk injury or be a wilder partier. They may not have a primary care physician, or might get into fights. Teens may be more likely to engage in drinking or smoking to be socially accepted, and that could carry over into adulthood.”
Education also had an effect on health. Those with lower levels of education were more likely overall as adults to use more medical services, including trips to the emergency room, visits to the dentist, hospital admissions and doctor visits due to injuries.
The Associated Press contributed
to this report.