Young children who face adverse problems such as death of a parent, growing up in poverty, physical or sexual abuse, or having a parent with a psychiatric illness are likely to be at a higher risk of developing health problems in adulthood, warn researchers.
Research showed that facing three or more adverse experiences at a time can lead to smaller brain volumes. As a result, children are unable to express their emotions properly, which leads to depression and worse social and emotional outcomes.
Those who faced adversities between the age group of nine to 15 years were 15 per cent more likely to develop severe depression by their pre-teenage years and early teenage years and 25 percent more likely to suffer physical health problems, like asthma and gastrointestinal disorders.
"Our findings demonstrate how powerful the psychosocial environment can be," said Joan L. Luby, Professor at the University of Washington in Missouri, US.
"A child's brain doesn't develop based solely on its genetic infrastructure. It is influenced by the stresses of poverty, violence, the loss of a parent, and other adverse experiences, which together can have serious health consequences evident as early as the teenage and preteenage years," she added.
The study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, conducted multiple MRI brain scans on children between three to six years of age which showed that the inferior frontal gyrus -- part of the brain important for language comprehension and production -- was smaller in children with more adverse experiences.
"People exposed to adversity early in life experience changes in the volume of the inferior frontal gyrus that probably can make children more vulnerable to behavioural issues and bad decision-making," Luby said.