OBJECTIVE: Methods to prevent two major mental disorders, schizophrenia and conduct disorder, have been elusive. This study assessed the effects of an early nutritional, educational, and physical exercise enrichment program on adult outcome for schizotypal personality, conduct disorder, and criminal behavior.
METHOD: Eighty-three children were assigned to an experimental enrichment program from ages 3 to 5 years and matched on temperament, nutritional, cognitive, autonomic, and demographic variables with 355 children who experienced usual community conditions (control group). Both self-report and objective measures of schizotypal personality and antisocial behavior were obtained when the subjects were ages 17 and 23 years.
RESULTS: Subjects who participated in the enrichment program at ages 3-5 years had lower scores for schizotypal personality and antisocial behavior at age 17 years and for criminal behavior at age 23 years, compared with the control subjects. The beneficial effects of the intervention were greater for children who showed signs of malnutrition at age 3 years, particularly with respect to outcomes for schizotypy at ages 17 and 23 and for antisocial behavior at age 17.
CONCLUSIONS: The results are consistent with an increasing body of knowledge that implicates an enriched, stimulating environment in beneficial psychological and behavioral outcomes. These findings have potential implications for the prevention of schizophrenia and criminal behavior.
The findings from this long-term follow-up study generated considerable media attention, as it showed that compared with a control group, children who received early intervention from the age of 3 years - in the form of a nutritional, educational and social enrichment programme - had significantly better outcomes throughout later childhood and even into their late teenage and early adult years.
The benefits included lower rates of antisocial behaviour, aggresssion, and personalty traits linked with risks for psychosis.
See below for one of the news articles that followed its publication (which focused particularly on the nutritional enrichment aspect of the intervention).
(Alternatively, a formatted PDF version of that news article can be viewed or downloaded from the File link at the top of this page).