A new study has found that traumatic experiences in childhood can increase the risk of poor mental and physical health in adulthood.
Researchers at King's College London followed 1,000 people in New Zealand from birth to the age of 32.
At age 32, the study subjects who had experienced these childhood traumas were more likely to exhibit depression, chronic inflammation and metabolic markers of increased health risk.
These three factors are known to be associated with the physiology of stress-response systems, and predict higher risk for age-related illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia.
Adults who had been maltreated as children were twice as likely to suffer major depression and chronic inflammation. Children who grew up poor or socially isolated, were twice as likely to show metabolic risk markers at age 32.
After the analysis controlled for family history and other established risk factors, it showed that adults who had two or more of the adverse childhood experiences were nearly twice as likely to have disease risk factors as those who hadn't had suffered in childhood.
"We live increasingly longer lives and our extra years of life should be healthy, productive and enjoyable, not years of disease and disability," says lead author Dr Andrea Danese.
"In this study, we observed that childhood experiences may affect health in old age, regardless of the risk factors that health policies are currently targeting. Therefore the promotion of healthy positive experiences for children is a necessary and potentially cost-effective target for the prevention of age-related disease," Danese added.
The study appears in the December issue of Archives of Paediatric and Adolescent Medicine.