Researchers at the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Nursing believe attention to health factors as early as the prenatal stage could prevent violence in later life.
According to Penn Nursing Assistant Professor Jianghong Liu, Ph.D., R.N., recent research underscores biological contributors to crime.
“‘Biological’ does not mean only genetic factors,” she explains, “but also health factors, such as nutritional deficiency and lead exposure, which influence biological processes.”
Liu’s study emphasizes that the time preceding, during and after birth are critical times for both a child’s neural development and for environmental modifications.
Evidence shows that the risk factors for delinquency and crime begin early in life and that the brain undergoes the most critical development in children in the first 36 months, highlighting the importance of early intervention.
Early health risk factors include prenatal and postnatal nutrition, lead exposure, tobacco use during pregnancy, maternal depression and stress, birth complications, traumatic brain injury, and child abuse.
Liu’s research indicates that identifying early health risk factors is an important first step in preventing childhood aggression and teenage delinquency, which have been shown to lead to violence in adulthood, a major problem in society.
“Violence affects everyone in society and the cost of violence also has an indirect impact on our lives,” Liu said.
Sadly, homicides are one of the leading causes of death within the American population ages 10 to 34. And, the U.S. health care system incurs $176 billion a year in costs from gunshot and stabbing wounds alone.
Despite decades of research into social and biological risk factors for antisocial and aggressive behavior in children, very little is known about the effects of early childhood health factors on these outcomes.
“As a society we should invest in better health care for early life – as early as a growing fetus — in order to minimize their health risk factors for violence,” Liu said. “It is never too early to intervene in the development of violent tendencies.”
Liu believes counseling can be delivered to women as they visit the hospital during her pregnancy.
“Health education on avoiding toxic exposure and screening for exposure to lead and tobacco, which have been shown to lead to both birth complications and behavior problems in later life,” could easily be provided.
“Nurses can take an active role in not only caring for the victims of violence, but also in the prevention of violence,” she says.
“In primary care and community health settings, nurses are in an excellent position to provide education to parents about proper prenatal care and early childhood care, such as good nutrition and how to minimize exposure to environmental toxins.”
Her study is published in the journal Aggression and Violent Behavior.
Source: University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing