Both adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and adverse childhood socioeconomic conditions (SECs) in early life are associated with poor outcomes across the life course. However, the complex interrelationships between childhood SECs and ACEs are unclear, as are the consequences for health outcomes beyond childhood. We therefore assessed the extent to which early-life ACEs mediate the relationship between SECs and socioemotional behavioural problems, cognitive disability and overweight/obesity in adolescence.
We used longitudinal data from the UK Millennium Cohort Study (MSC). Outcomes assessed at age 14 were socioemotional behavioural problems, cognitive disability and overweight/obesity. SECs at birth were measured by maternal education. Potentially mediating ACEs measured up to 5 years were verbal and physical maltreatment, parental drug use, domestic violence, parental divorce, maternal mental illness and high frequency of parental alcohol use. We used counterfactual mediation analysis to assess the extent to which ACEs mediate the association between SECs at birth and behavioural, cognitive and physical outcomes at age 14, estimating total (TE), natural direct and indirect effects, and mediated proportions.
Children with disadvantaged SECs were more likely to have socioemotional behavioural problems (relative risk (RR) 3.85, 95% CI 2.48 to 5.97), cognitive disability (RR 3.87, 95% CI 2.33 to 6.43) and overweight/obesity (RR 1.61, 95% CI 1.32 to 1.95), compared to those with more advantaged SECs. Overall, 18% of the TE of SECs on socioemotional behavioural problems was mediated through all ACEs investigated. For cognitive disability and overweight/obese, the proportions mediated were 13% and 19%, respectively.