Smarter Kids May Be Less Accident-Prone as Adults

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Smarter children may end up being safer adults, according to a long-term study comparing childhood intelligence with adult injury rates.

Children from the study who scored lower on intelligence tests at ages 7, 9 and 11 were more likely than their peers to be hospitalized for an accidental injury as adults, say Debbie Lawlor, Ph.D., of the University of Bristol in England, and colleagues.

The study is published in the February issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

"To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the relationship between childhood intelligence and risk of nonfatal injury in adulthood," Lawlor and colleagues say.

The finding could help explain why people who score low on intelligence tests in childhood are more likely than those with average or above-average scores to die young, they add.

The researchers studied 11,282 people in Scotland who were part of a large childhood development study in the 1950s and 1960s. Lawlor and colleagues found that early intelligence scores and the risk of later injury were linked even after accounting for other factors such as the child's socioeconomic background and his or her physical growth.

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The more educated a person, the weaker the link between childhood intelligence and adult injury, the researchers found.

"This might mean that improvements in education could result in lower injury rates in adulthood," Lawlor said. However, education seemed to have the biggest protective effect on those who had a childhood IQ score of 100 or more, she added.

Of those studied, 1,043 people had been admitted to the hospital at least once with an accidental injury as adults. Men were more likely to have had an injury requiring hospitalization than women. People with lower childhood intelligence scores were also more likely to be hospitalized multiple times for adult injuries.

The researchers say there are several reasons why childhood intelligence and adult injury might be linked. First of all, children with lower intelligence are also more likely to suffer injuries while young. If these injuries involve the head, they may make the children more prone to accidents as adults.

Patricia Schnitzer, Ph.D., a child injury researcher at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said a child's intelligence may affect his or her risk of injury when young, but added, "I think protection, or childproofing, and supervision by responsible adults are probably more important in terms of injury prevention than the intelligence of the child."

Children with low intelligence may be less able to process information from their surroundings that would help them avoid injury or accidents later in life, the researchers say.

They add that children with lower intelligence tend to leave school earlier, which can affect their ability to process information and may place them in riskier jobs and living conditions.

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