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Quantifying the contribution of poverty and family adversity to adverse child outcomes in the UK: evidence from the UK Millennium Cohort Study

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Ruth McGovernORCiD, Professor Eileen KanerORCiD


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Copyright © 2022 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. BACKGROUND: Adolescent health is poor in the UK, with higher prevalence of adverse outcomes in adolescents exposed to family adversities that cluster with poverty from early life. However, little evidence exists to quantify the contribution of these exposures to poor child health in the UK to inform policy. The aim of this study was to estimate the proportion of child physical, mental, cognitive, and behavioural outcomes that could be prevented if exposure to poverty and family adversity during childhood were eliminated. METHODS: We used nationally representative birth cohort data from the UK Millennium Cohort Study to calculate population attributable fractions. Exposure trajectories were characterised using previously developed group-based multi-trajectory models of childhood adversities up to age 14 years, including low poverty and family adversity, persistent poverty, persistent parental alcohol use, persistent domestic violence and abuse, and persistent poverty and poor parental mental health trajectory; and we assessed the effect of these trajectories on adolescent outcomes using regression models. These models were used to calculate population attributable fractions by contrasting a hypothetical scenario in which all children were in a low poverty and family adversity trajectory with the real-world scenario. FINDINGS: The identified exposure trajectories contributed substantially to the burden of childhood developmental problems. Compared with the low poverty and family adversity trajectory, the overall percentage of socioemotional behavioural problems at age 14 years attributable to persistent poverty and family adversity trajectories was 54% (95% CI 45-60). A percentage of 36·1% (95% CI 21·8-46·2) was reported for drug experimentation, 32·6% (18·8-40·7) for cognitive disability, and 27·4% (12·9-34·9) for obesity (appendix). INTERPRETATION: Poverty and family adversity contribute to a substantial burden of adverse child health and developmental outcomes in the UK population. FUNDING: The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Policy Research Programme, NIHR Applied Research Collaboration South London at King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, and the UK Medical Research Council.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Adjei NK, Schluter DK, Straatmann VS, Melis G, Fleming KM, McGovern R, Howard LM, Kaner E, Wolfe I, Taylor-Robinson DC

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: Public Health Science 2021

Year of Conference: 2021

Pages: S16-S16

Online publication date: 24/11/2022

Acceptance date: 02/04/2018

ISSN: 1474-547X

Publisher: The Lancet Publishing Group


DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(22)02226-7

PubMed id: 36426430