Clustering of adverse health and educational outcomes in adolescence following early childhood disadvantage: population-based retrospective UK cohort study

Aase Villadsen*, Miqdad Asaria, Ieva Skarda, George B. Ploubidis, Mark Mon Williams, Eric John Brunner, Richard Cookson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Disadvantage in early childhood (ages 0–5 years) is associated with worse health and educational outcomes in adolescence. Evidence on the clustering of these adverse outcomes by household income is scarce in the generation of adolescents born since the turn of the millennium. We aimed to describe the association between household income in early childhood and physical health, psychological distress, smoking behaviour, obesity, and educational outcomes at age 17 years, including the patterning and clustering of these five outcomes by income quintiles. Methods: In this population-based, retrospective cohort study, we used data from the Millennium Cohort Study in which individuals born in the UK between Sept 1, 2000, and Jan 1, 2002, were followed up. We collected data on five adverse health and social outcomes in adolescents aged 17 years known to limit life chances: psychological distress, self-assessed ill health, smoking, obesity, and poor educational achievement. We compared how single and multiple outcomes were distributed across early childhood quintile groups of income, as an indicator of disadvantage, and modelled the potential effect of three income-shifting scenarios in early childhood for reducing adverse outcomes in adolescence. Findings: We included 15 245 adolescents aged 17 years, 7788 (51·1%) of whom were male and 7457 (48·9%) of whom were female. Adolescents in the lowest income quintile group in childhood were 12·7 (95% CI 6·4–25·1) times more likely than those in the highest quintile group to have four or five adverse adolescent outcomes, with poor educational achievement (risk ratio [RR] 4·6, 95% CI 4·2–5·0) and smoking (3·6, 3·0–4·2), showing the largest single risk ratios. Shifting up to the second lowest, middle, and highest income groups would reduce multiple adolescent adversities by 4·9% (95% CI –23·8 to 33·6), 32·3% (–2·7 to 67·3), and 83·9% (47·2 to 120·7), respectively. Adjusting for parental education and single parent status moderately attenuated these estimates. Interpretation: Early childhood disadvantage is more strongly correlated with multiple adolescent adversities than any of the five single adverse outcomes. However, shifting children from the lowest income quintile group to the next lowest group is ineffective. Tackling multiple adolescent adversities requires managing early childhood disadvantage across the social gradient, with income redistribution as a central element of coordinated cross-sectoral action. Funding: UK Prevention Research Partnership.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e286-e293
Number of pages8
JournalThe Lancet Public Health
Issue number4
Early online date23 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding for this study was provided by the UK Prevention Research Partnership (MR/S037527/1). RC and IS received funding from the Wellcome Trust (205427/Z/16/Z), and EJB was funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI; ES/T014377/1). We also thank participants of the Millennium Cohort Study for providing valuable data on their lives and experiences.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an Open Access article under the CC BY 4.0 licence.

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