The Dunedin Study: Early Indicators of Future Physical Health, by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

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Continuing  our series of articles on findings discovered by the “Dunedin Longitudinal Study”

“Why do some people develop phobias and cancers, while others lead a healthy existence?  Why do some children grow up to be successful entrepreneurs or Nobel Prize Winners, while others become drug addicts and down and outs?  Are these things settled at birth, or is it a result of our childhood experiences?  This question has fascinated philosophers and scientists for thousands of years.”  — Opening lines of “The Dunedin Longitudinal Study” TV Programme.

The Dunedin Study findings are that diabetes, heart disease and infant mortality are all greater in number among children raised in poverty.  Dental issues, infectious diseases and meningitis are also more prevalent among these children.  Children raised in poverty are 3-5 times more likely to be admitted to hospital than children who are not from poor backgrounds.

Follow up studies confirm Dunedin Study findings: the overall life expectancy of children growing up in poverty is lower.   For those raised in South Auckland, the lower socioeconomic region of Auckland City New Zealand, life expectancy was shown to be seven years less than that of children raised in any other part of Auckland.  A similar study in Bayview, the poorer area of San Francisco in the USA, showed that children raised there had a life expectancy eleven years lower than those living in other parts of the city.

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Street in Bayview, San Francisco. Source: http://abc7news.com/place/bayview-hunters-point/

For many years it has been known that there is an obvious link between child poverty and higher levels of ill health.  Due to the precise nature of the information obtained and the 95% retention rate of participants, The “Dunedin Longitudinal Study” has shown this link even more clearly.  Not only do children in poverty suffer from health issues at a greater rate than their peers who do not live in poverty, but the ill health suffered by these children has lifelong effects.  This is true even for those who spent their early years in poverty but ceased, for whatever reason, to be poor in their adult years.

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Growing up in poverty has “lingering effects” on physical health, according to “Dunedin Study” findings.    This is a new and very radical finding.  Children growing up in poverty are subject to stresses which, over time, create inflammation in their blood, study findings show.  Blood tests showed that study members who grew up in poverty and/ or those who were abused or neglected as children had the highest levels of inflammation.  Chronic inflammation permanently “weakens” health, leaving these individuals much more susceptible to diseases related to this inflammation.  In effect this means childhood stress can set up a lifetime of poor health.  Even for those who grew up in poverty, but become wealthy in adulthood, the physical effects of growing up poor can’t be changed.

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The disparity between the lives of the rich and the poor is an increasing issue in developed countries.  The “Dunedin Longitudinal Study” has discovered then, that aside from effects such as economic disadvantage (including educational disadvantage) and a higher risk of becoming involved in criminal activity, long term physical health is compromised by poverty– whether or not the individual in question remains poor into adulthood.  Once again the importance of society investing in people’s early years is shown– we now have a scientific reason to invest in our children, it is more than just “a nice thing to do”.   Our childhood year are truly our “Forever Years”, emotionally and physically.

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One thought on “The Dunedin Study: Early Indicators of Future Physical Health, by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

  1. Pingback: “The Dunedin Longitudinal Study”…one of the most amazing and detailed studies EVER of how important “The Forever Years” of childhood are in shaping the adults we become. By Kirsteen McLay-Knopp | The Forever Years

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