Antisocial :: Antisocial boys more likely to become unhealthy men

Unchecked antisocial behaviour in boys may lead to much greater costs than previously thought, according to new research showing a link to poor adult physical health.

The findings are published this week in the US journal, Archives of General Psychiatry. Researchers at the University of Otago’s Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit collaborated with colleagues at the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College, University of London.

Unit Director and paper co-author Professor Richie Poulton says that while other studies have shown that childhood antisocial behaviour leads to adult crime and mental disorder, this is the first study to show evidence of the link to poor physical health in adulthood.

“Children and adolescents involved in antisocial behaviour are at risk for more than a life of crime as adult. We can now demonstrate that the physical health of these children and adolescents may be at stake as well.”

Poor physical health outcomes include injury, sexually transmitted diseases, cardiovascular risk, reduced immune function and dental disease.

The findings come out of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health & Development Study, which has followed 1000 Dunedin-born people since their birth in 1972/73. For this study, 526 males were assessed throughout their childhood, adolescence, and as young adults, with the most recent assessments at age 32.

Boys whose antisocial behaviour persisted into adulthood were more than three times as likely to show symptoms of chronic bronchitis and gum disease, 2.9 times more likely to show markers for later heart disease and stroke, and 2.2 times more likely to have contracted the Herpes virus.

Males who exhibited high levels of antisocial behaviour as children but reduced their antisocial behaviour by adulthood did not have the same poor health as adults. “The key factor in predicting poor health at age 32 appears to be the persistence of antisocial behaviour from childhood into adulthood,” Professor Poulton says.

“Potential benefits exist for both the justice and health sectors – prevention efforts to reduce antisocial behaviour may help combat not only future crime and violence, but may also lessen the overall health burden to individuals, families and their communities.”

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