One in four UK children facing multiple risks to development, study finds

February 7, 2012, University of Sussex

(Medical Xpress) -- More than one in four UK infants is growing up in families facing multiple challenges such as parental depression and financial hardship that can have a damaging effect on children’s development, new research suggests. 

The study, co-authored by Dr. Ricardo Sabates from the Education department at Sussex, sheds fresh light on the number and diverse combinations of difficulties that young children have been exposed to during the first decade of the 21st century. 

It also provides the first detailed analysis of the number of challenges or ‘risk factors’ facing children from different ethnic groups.

The 10 risk factors considered were: living in overcrowded housing; having a teenage mother; having one or more parents with , a physical disability or low basic skills; substance misuse; excessive alcohol intake; and living in a family experiencing financial stress, worklessness or domestic violence.

Dr. Sabates and Professor Shirley Dex, from the Institute of Education, University of London, examined information on more than 18,000 families who are taking part in the Millennium Cohort Study, which has been tracking UK children through their early childhood. 

They found that 28 per cent of families faced two or more of these ten risk factors. Just over four in ten children did not experience any of these risk factors in early childhood. A further three in ten faced only one. 

Previous research suggests that most children living with only one risk factor will not end up with a major developmental problem: it is multiple family difficulties that are most damaging.

As the Millennium cohort is representative of the current UK child population, the researchers estimate that approximately 192,000 children born in 2001 faced multiple challenges in early childhood. However, as many of these young children have older siblings, the total number of children at risk was considerably higher, they say.

The authors found that children facing two or more risk factors had poorer behavioural development scores at ages three and five than those experiencing one or no challenges. The vocabulary scores of children with multiple challenges were also lower and they fell further behind between ages three and five. Children in families with not only multiple risk factors but also low income fared worst across most developmental outcomes.

Dr. Sabates and Professor Dex found that high numbers of risks were relatively uncommon: about one in seven children faced two risk factors, and one in 14 was in a family with three risk factors. Less than 2 per cent of were exposed to five or more. 

The researchers found no dominant pattern of risks. For example, for families facing three risks, the most common combination was smoking during pregnancy, financial stress and teenage motherhood. However, this combination of factors applied to only 6 per cent of families living with three risks. Parental depression was the most prevalent factor overall.

The authors acknowledge that the great diversity of risk-factor combinations complicates matters for policy-makers. “It seems that there is relatively little to be gained from policy interventions that tackle clusters of disadvantage rather than individual disadvantages,” they conclude. “However, there may still be some knock-on effects from tackling some individual and disadvantages.”

Explore further: Children born after unplanned pregnancy are slower to develop

More information: The initial findings of this study are reported in ‘Multiple risk factors in young children’s development’, a working paper published by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Institute of Education.

Related Stories

Children born after unplanned pregnancy are slower to develop

July 26, 2011
Children born after unplanned pregnancies tend to have a more limited vocabulary and poorer non-verbal and spatial abilities; however this is almost entirely explained by their disadvantaged circumstances, according to a ...

Recommended for you

Number of older people with four or more diseases will double by 2035, say researchers

January 23, 2018
A study published today in Age and Ageing, the scientific journal of the British Geriatrics Society, reports that the number of older people diagnosed with four or more diseases will double between 2015 and 2035. A third ...

Placental accumulation of flame retardant chemical alters serotonin production in rats

January 22, 2018
A North Carolina State University-led research team has shown a connection between exposure to a widely used flame retardant chemical mixture and disruption of normal placental function in rats, leading to altered production ...

Marijuana use does not lower chances of getting pregnant

January 22, 2018
Marijuana use—by either men or women—does not appear to lower a couple's chances of getting pregnant, according to a new study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers.

Women run faster after taking newly developed supplement, study finds

January 19, 2018
A new study found that women who took a specially prepared blend of minerals and nutrients for a month saw their 3-mile run times drop by almost a minute.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Feb 07, 2012
They ignore variation in the executive skills capacity of parents--a factor known to be critical to child development and the ability of parents to organize their lives so they avoid "risk" factors such as smoking while pregnant, financial problems and teenage pregnancy. It may be that the so called risk factors are not causative but correlates.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.