Date Published: 2 April 2007

Antisocial behaviour in boys leads to poor health in men (MRC)

A study of over 500 men born in the early 70s in Dunedin reveals that the costs associated with antisocial behaviour may be much higher than previously thought. The research led by scientists from the MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre based at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London is published in Archives of General Psychiatry.

Dr Candice Odgers and her colleagues report on a 30-year birth cohort study involving men born in Dunedin between 1972 and 1973. Their research shows that boys engaged in persistent antisocial behaviour become men with poor physical health. Health outcomes included injury, sexually transmitted diseases, cardiovascular risk, immune function, and dental disease. Prior research has demonstrated that childhood-onset and persistent antisocial behaviour leads to adult crime and mental disorder. This study is the first to demonstrate the link with poor physical health outcomes in adulthood.

Compared to the average man, men engaged in childhood-onset and persistent antisocial behaviour were 2.9 times more likely to be above the clinical cut-off for C-reactive protein, a marker of later heart disease and stroke, 2.2 times more likely to have contracted the Herpes virus, and over 3 times more likely to have symptoms of chronic bronchitis and gum disease. Young men who waited until adolescence to initiate antisocial behaviour were also at risk for poor outcomes – although their physical health was not as compromised as their childhood-onset and persistent counterparts.

The researchers also identified group of children who exhibited high levels of antisocial behaviour in childhood, but who reduced their antisocial behaviour by adolescence and were not experiencing physical health problems as adults. This ‘childhood-limited’ subgroup made up 25% of the men in the cohort, demonstrating that while antisocial behaviour is common in childhood it does not necessarily lead to a life of crime and poor outcomes. Rather, the key factor in predicting which children will experience poor health at age 32 was whether their antisocial behaviour persisted from childhood into young adulthood.

The findings suggest that prevention of antisocial behaviour may provide an opportunity to reduce a wide range of adult mental and physical health problems. Findings also suggest that interventions with children exhibiting early antisocial behaviour may reduce their risk of experiencing poor physical health in later life.

Dr Candice Odgers, lead author at the MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, said:

Children and adolescents involved in antisocial behaviour are at risk for more than a life of crime as adults – findings from this study demonstrate that the physical health of these boys may be at stake as well. Prevention efforts to reduce antisocial behaviour may help to combat not only future crime and violence, but may also lessen the overall health burden to individuals, families and their communities.


Source: The Medical Research Council (MRC), UK.

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