Childhood Adversity and Health


 “The Long Shadow Of Childhood Adversity On Health: Evidence From Ireland And Policy Implications”

Research based on the Growing Up in Ireland Study (GUI) and National Longitudinal Study of Ageing (TILDA) shows that childhood environment has life-long effects on physical and psychological well-being and contributes to chronic illness in later life. Infancy and childhood often represent a “critical period” after which remedial treatment can be both less effective and increasingly expensive. 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. At the conference “The Long Shadow Of Childhood Adversity On Health: Evidence From Ireland And Policy Implications” on 27 June, researchers from two cohort studies, one of people 50 years and older (TILDA) and the other of children (Growing Up in Ireland), will present evidence on the impact of child adversity on later health and well-being from a life-course perspective. They will also consider the policy implications of this research.

Irish Research Findings:

  • GUI data show that child birth weight decreases in line with family income yet the risk of obesity at age 3 is 75% higher for children whose families are in the bottom half of the income distribution. Children in the bottom 5th by income are 230% more likely to be obese at age 3.
  • Children’s psychological well-being is also worse at lower income levels. GUI data show that the risk of serious emotional and behavioural problems at age 9 is twice as high in the bottom half of the income distribution.
  • Emotional and behavioural problems contribute significantly to educational failure.
  • TILDA data show that growing up in poor households increased 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.
  • This research adds to a growing international evidence base that shows how children’s early life environments determine not only their physical health and risk of disease but may also contribute to childhood and adult criminality, educational failure, family breakdown and mental health.

Policy Implications

  • ‘Upstream’ interventions which target the causes of health and social problems will be more effective and cheaper than ‘downstream’ services to deal with the consequences.
  • Ireland’s child poverty rate is high compared to other European countries and children are more likely to be poor and deprived than adults aged less than 65 (9.3% v 6.8%). Yet cash benefits to families with children are higher in Ireland than most other European countries.
  • This paradox results from high level of worklessness in households with children in Ireland. Measures which facilitate employment may be more effective at reducing child poverty than increases in cash benefits.
  • Maintaining financial support for families with children is important but improved provision of family services may be more effective at increasing child welfare
  • Well resourced community health services, particularly public health nurses, are an efficient way to improve both adult and child health and welfare.
  • Intensive family interventions in deprived areas lead to reductions in anti-social behaviour, better school results and less unemployment in adulthood.
  • High quality pre-school education improves the health, social skills and educational success of deprived children as well as helping poorer parents to find paid work.
  • Estimates for Ireland by the Geary Institute at UCD suggest that each euro invested in high quality pre-school education can yield savings of between €4.60 and €7.10 (depending on the precise assumptions used).

Prof Richard Layte (ESRI) commented that:

“With a tight national budget we need to think carefully about investing for the future. Ireland’s future prosperity depends on having an educated, creative and competitive workforce. By investing in early childhood we will be developing healthier, happier and more productive adults for all our tomorrows – and saving money in the process.”

For further Information please contact:
Richard Layte (Research Professor, ESRI), +353 1 8632014 (office),

Notes to Editors:

    • This half-day Conference, “The Long Shadow Of Childhood Adversity On Health: Evidence From Ireland And Policy Implications” will take place on Thursday 27 June 2013 from 9:00 to 13:00, at the ESRI. For further details and to download the programme, please visit the ESRI website.
    • The conference will be opened by Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Ms Frances Fitzgerald TD.
    • Members of the Media are invited to attend the Conference.
    • Conference presentation slides will be available to download from our website on the day of the event.
    • Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) is a Government funded study following the progress of almost 20,000 children and their families – a Child Cohort of 8,568 children interviewed at nine years and 13 years of age and an Infant Cohort of 11,134 children participating at nine months and three years of age. The study is being conducted by a consortium of researchers led by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and Trinity College Dublin. Those wishing to find out more about the study can visit the study’s website
    • The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) is a study of a representative cohort of over 8500 people resident in Ireland aged 50+, charting their health, social and economic circumstances over a 10-year period. The second wave of data collection was completed this year. TILDA is unique amongst longitudinal studies internationally in the breadth of physical, mental health and cognitive measures collected. If you would like to find out more about the study please visit

The ESRI is an independent research institute. The Institute does not take policy positions and the views expressed in ESRI publications are those of the authors. All ESRI reports are peer-reviewed prior to publication.

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