Researchers at the University of Denver may have discovered a way to predict whether a child will exhibit behavioral problems in the future. The study, published in Psychological Science, found significance between results from standard blood tests taken at birth and a child’s ability to regulate their emotions at age 5. The researches utilized data collected from a previous study done in the United Kingdom. The study monitored 1,369 children from diverse ethnic backgrounds from birth up until five years of age.
The University of Denver team was initially interested in using the existing UK data to see if lipid profiles in young children had any vital significance. A lipid profile is a set of laboratory test results indicating levels of cholesterol and triglycerides present in the blood. In order to fully understand the results of the study, a quick review of lipids may help.
Cholesterol and Triglycerides
Unlike triglycerides, which are fats, cholesterol is a waxy substance which the body needs in small amounts. At high levels, cholesterol and triglycerides can harm the body by causing heart disease and strokes.
HDL is known as “good” cholesterol, and LDL is known as the “bad” cholesterol. Triglycerides are a common type of fat. Typically, high triglycerides combined with high LDL levels or low HDL levels are detrimental to the heart.
Lipid Levels at Birth and Childhood Behavior
Researchers at the University of Denver reviewed data from the UK study and found fascinating information in regards to lipid levels and behavior.
The Denver researchers reviewed data described at age five by the children’s teachers. The teachers had been asked to rate the children on various aspects of their behavior, such as self-confidence, emotional control, and interpersonal relationships. They were also asked to rate the children on a scale of “below, at, or exceeding” their expected developmental milestones.
For children who were rated as low on social and emotional development, these children had had lab results that indicated high levels of triglycerides and high levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol at birth. On the other end of the spectrum, children who were rated as high or “exceeding” their social and emotional milestones had high levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol at birth. These results held consistently, even when ethnicity and gender had been factored.
Possibilities for the Future
Although research into the findings are in their initial stages, and further studies are required, the Denver study does open the door to the possibility that mental health may have additional influences other than what science currently understands. The study has implications for how psychological risks can be predicted or understood.
The researchers admitted that it is too early to have definitive guidelines in regards to lipid tests as present-day use for behavioral risk assessments with children; it does hope for early detection methods. If identified early, children with a high risk for behavioral problems can receive appropriate interventions and prevent future issues. By identifying risks as soon as possible, children and caregivers can be provided with the support they need to have the best outcomes.