1 November 2002

Unhealthy teens "less likely to commit crimes"

A unique new study of teenage boys' behaviour has found that those who get colds, flu, bronchitis and asthma are significantly less likely to be convicted of a crime than healthier boys of the same age. They are also less likely to have unprotected sex, antisocial behavioural problems or an anti-establishment attitude. The study, published in the November Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, was carried out by Professor Jonathan Shepherd and colleagues at the University of Wales' Violence Research Group and Cambridge University's Institute of Criminology. They looked at the relations between illness, injury and criminal offences, and found that teenagers who were injured - especially in fights - were more likely to commit a crime.

Key findings

  • Teenage boys who get injured in an assault are significantly more likely to be convicted of a crime later on
  • Teenage boys who had respiratory illnesses such as colds, flu, asthma or bronchitis were significantly less likely to be convicted of a crime later on
  • Teenage boys who get injured in a fight are likely not only to commit a crime, but also have other 'antisocial' behaviours (e.g. being heavy smokers and drinkers, having unprotected sex and an unstable job record)
  • "Less healthy boys are less antisocial...antisocial teens are less likely to be ill"

Twenty-six years of data
Professor Shepherd and his colleagues are the first to assess long term research on the links between offending and overall health. Their data came from the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development (CSDD), which followed over 400 London boys as they grew up. Over 26 years researchers gathered information on the children's personalities, family life, IQ, hobbies, and later their employment record and relationships. The Criminal Record Office provided information on whether the boys or those close to them had been convicted of any crimes, and data was also gathered on illnesses and injuries for two years when the boys were between 16-18.

Why these results?
The authors suggest a number of possible reasons for their unusual findings. Since offenders are more likely to come from large families, they might have become more resistant to cold and flu infections., They are more likely to have manual jobs, so may be physically fitter at 18 - health problems from smoking and drinking are unlikely to show up until much later. Offenders may also take a more 'macho' attitude towards admitting they are ill, and if they are in temporary jobs, another linked factor, they may find it harder to take time off work. In the light of the study, the authors stress that tackling crime must involve public health specialists as well as the police. "An antisocial lifestyle and offending goes with injury. Tackling violence is as much a health issue as it is a crime issue".  

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