Cumulative risk over the early life course and its relation to academic achievement in childhood and early adolescence

Ragnarsdottir, Laufey Dís; Kristjansson, Alfgeir L.; Thorisdottir, Ingibjorg E.; Allegrante, John P.; Valdimarsdottir, Heiddis; Gestsdottir, Steinunn; Sigfusdottir, Inga Dora

Early-life risk factors, such as family disruption, maltreatment, and poverty, can negatively impact children's scholastic abilities; however, most previous studies have relied on cross-sectional designs and retrospective measurement. This study investigated the relation between cumulative risk factors during the early life course and subsequent academic achievement in a cohort of children and adolescents. Data for this study were based on registry-data material from the LIFECOURSE study of 1151 children from the 2000 birth cohort in Reykjavik, Iceland, assembled in 2014-2016. Multiple lifetime risk factors, including maternal smoking during pregnancy, parent's disability status, being born to a young mother, number of children in the household, family income, number of visits to school nurses, and reports of maltreatment, were assessed. Latent class analysis and Analysis of Covariance (ANCOVA) were used to predict academic achievement in the 4th and 7th grades. Individuals with no risk factors reported the highest average academic achievement in the 4th (M=66 points, SD=17) and 7th grades (M=67 points, SD=15). There was a significant main effect for 4th-grade risk factors and academic achievement (F [7, 1146]=12.06, p<0.001) and a similar relationship between the risk factor profile and achievement scores in 7th grade (F [7, 1146]=15.08, p<0.001). Each additional risk factor was associated with a drop in academic achievement at both grade levels. We conclude that academic achievement declines in proportion to the number of risk factors in early life.

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Preventive Medicine

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Academic Units
Health and Behavior Studies
Published Here
February 19, 2020


KEYWORDS: Academic achievement; Adolescents; Cumulative health risk; Iceland; Life course; Primary prevention