Early life cognitive function and health behaviours in late childhood: testing the neuro-selection hypothesis

2017-10-31T13:32:41Z (GMT) by Daniel Aggio Lee Smith Mark Hamer
Background: Higher cognitive function in childhood is associated with healthier behaviours and a reduced risk of chronic disease in adulthood, but it is unclear whether this selection of healthier behaviours occurs in childhood or later in life. The present study investigated how cognitive function at age 3-7 years was associated with health behaviours at age 11. Methods: Verbal, non-verbal and spatial abilities were assessed using the British Ability Scales at ages 3-7. At age 11, children reported how often they engaged in sport/physical activity, sedentary behaviours (e.g. reading and games console usage), cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption. Logistic regression was used to estimate odds of engaging in health behaviours at age 11 according to early life cognition. Results: A one standard deviation increase in early childhood verbal ability was associated with reduced odds of attempting smoking by age 11 in boys and girls (OR 0.69 [95% CI 0.57, 0.84]) and reduced odds of computer gaming in girls (OR 0.79 [95% CI 0.72, 0.86]). Verbal ability was also associated with reduced odds of regular participation at age 11 in sport/active games and increased odds of reading for enjoyment. Non-verbal ability was associated with reduced odds of alcohol consumption in boys and girls (OR 0.92 [95% CI 0.85, 0.99]) and reduced odds of online messaging (OR 0.89 [95% CI 0.81, 0.98]). Spatial ability was associated with reduced odds of participating in sport/active games in boys. Conclusion: Neuroselection may occur during early life resulting in some, but not all, healthier behaviours. What is already known on this subject? • Higher cognitive function in childhood is associated with a reduced risk of unhealthy lifestyle choices in adulthood. • Individuals with higher cognitive function select into healthier behaviours, a theory known as neuroselection What this study adds? • Early life cognitive function at ages 3-7 years is associated with engagement in health behaviours at age 11. • Children with better cognitive function may select into some healthier behaviours (e.g. avoidance of smoking and alcohol consumption) by age 11. • They may also select into some less healthy behaviours (e.g. less sport and active games and more sedentary time.)