Childhood Adversity Increases Risk Of Premature Death In Adulthood: Lancet Study

The researchers found that the more stressful experiences they have experienced during childhood, the higher the mortality rate in early adulthood.

Researchers from the Universities of Copenhagen and Liverpool have published a new study in The Lancet which suggests that childhood adversity is a factor which contributes to the premature death in early adulthood.

During childhood, brain like any other parts of the body, undergoes very rapid development. And adverse events in childhood slow down this natural process of development, which ultimately causes long-lasting effects on health.

Researchers analysed two separate data. Children losing a parent, born to poor parents, a family member affected by any type of mental illness, children living in foster care were put in one category.

Children having not experienced adversity during childhood were put in the second category.

The researchers found that normal children are 4.5 times less likely to die in early adulthood than children who have experienced adversity during childhood.

Childhood adversities

In order to gain a better understanding of how these adverse events in childhood relate to mortality in early adult life researchers conducted a study that recorded repeated serious adversity in childhood among one million Danish children and then examined their mortality rates between 16 and 34 years.

In the research, mainly three types of childhood adversities were taken into account while finding the clue why some people are prone to premature death in adulthood:

  • Poverty and material deprivation
  • Loss or threat of loss within the family
  • Aspects of family dynamics such as maternal separation

The researchers divided the children into five groups depending on the degree of adversity experienced in childhood.


The researchers found that the more stressful experiences they have experienced during childhood, the higher the mortality rate in early adulthood.

  • In group 1: 54% of the children experienced no or only very few isolated incidents of adversity in childhood.
  • in groups 2-4: 43% of the children experienced isolated incidents of adversity in childhood, mainly related to poverty or illness in the family. Here the researchers found a mortality rate in early adulthood that is 1.3-1.8 times higher than in Group 1.
  • in group 5: 3% experienced multiple adversities within all dimensions and throughout the entire childhood period. In this group, the mortality rate is 4.5 times higher than in Group 1.

The higher mortality rate mainly manifests itself in suicide and accidents, but the study also shows a higher risk of dying from cancer in this group.

Naja Hulvej Rod, University of Copenhagen, said: “It is striking to see such a strong connection between adversity in childhood and mortality in the Danish welfare state, which among other things aims to promote financial stability among families with young children and to minimize social adversity. From an international perspective, you may worry that these associations are even stronger in a less extensive welfare system.”

The World Health Organisation defines childhood trauma and adversity as all forms of physical and emotional abuse, neglect or exploitation that results in actual or potential harm to a child.

The negative impact that Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have on health and social outcomes is now widely accepted. ACEs have been found to increase the risk of poor health behaviours including smoking, alcohol and substance misuse and severe obesity.

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