Seeds of violence can be sown in the womb

Seeds of violence can be sown in the womb

By Catherine Walker

The seeds of violence can be planted even before a child is born according to recent research.

The study which was carried out by the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing shows that attention to health factors as early as the prenatal stage could prevent violence in later life.  Professor Jianghong Liu PhD RN is the lead author and her study is reported in the journal Aggression and Violent Behaviour.

Recent research has shown a biological basis of crime says Dr. Liu.  ‘Biological does not mean only genetic factors, but also health factors such as nutritional deficiency and lead exposure, which influence biological processes’ explains Dr. Liu.

The study emphasises the prenatal, perinatal and postnatal periods, which are all critical times for a child’s neuro-development and for environmental modifications.  Evidence shows that the risk factors for delinquency and crime start early in life. The brain undergoes the most critical development in children during the first 36 months which highlights the importance of early intervention.

Dr. Liu identifies early health risk factors which include prenatal and postnatal nutrition, lead exposure, tobacco use during pregnancy, maternal depression and stress, birth complications, traumatic brain injury and child abuse.

The research indicate that identifying early health risk factors is important as a first step to prevent childhood aggression and teenage delinquency, which have been found to lead to violence in adulthood which is a major problem within society.

Dr. Liu says ‘Violence affects everyone in society and the cost of violence also has an indirect impact on our lives.’

Decades of research into social and biological risk factors for antisocial and aggressive behaviour in children and yet very little is known about the effects of early childhood health factors

‘As a society we invest in better health care for early life – as early as a growing foetus – in order to minimise their health risk factors for violence.  It is never too early to intervene in the development of violent tendencies,’ said Dr. Liu.

Nurses can play a crucial role in prenatal care says Liu.  ‘When a woman visits the hospital during her pregnancy, her physical symptoms are often the main focus.  Very little time is spent on talking extensively with expectant parents about things like avoiding toxic exposure and screening for exposure to lead and tobacco, which have been shown to lead to both birth complications and behaviour problems in later life’ Liu explained.

‘Nurses can take an active role in not only caring for the victims of violence, but also in the prevention of violence.  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 minimise exposure to environmental toxins,’ Dr. Liu concluded.

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