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Quality of childhood environment

An enriched, stimulating environment during childhood reduces the likelihood of developing schizophrenia and criminal behaviour in young adulthood. Although several reports have suggested a link between environmental factors and these mental health problems, few studies have looked at early childhood interventions as a means of preventing them.

Quality of childhood environment

An enriched, stimulating environment during childhood reduces the likelihood of developing schizophrenia and criminal behaviour in young adults. Although several reports have suggested a link between environmental factors and these mental health problems, few studies have looked at early childhood interventions as a means of preventing them.Researchers from the University of Southern California at Los Angeles, assessed the effects of an environmental enrichment programme at ages 3 to 5 years on the risk of schizophrenic-like personality and antisocial behaviour at ages 17 and 23 years. The study involved 438 children from Mauritius who were born in 1969 or 1970. Half the children participated in the special programme while the remainder experienced the usual community conditions and served as a comparison control group. The enrichment programme comprised of a stimulating environment and focused on three key elements - nutrition, education and physical exercise. The programme was delivered daily at two specially constructed nursery schools by specially trained staff.Compared with the control group, children participating in the programme scored lower on tests of schizophrenia-like disorders and antisocial behaviour at 17 years of age. They were also less likely to have a history of criminal behaviour. The strongest benefits were seen among children with evidence of malnutrition at 3 years of age.

These findings are particularly relevant to developing countries and poor rural areas of developed countries where rates of both malnutrition and behavioural problems in children are relatively high.

American Journal of Psychiatry, October 2003
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