Friday, 22 April 2016

Rough childhoods have ripple effects for wild baboons

Unhealthy lifestyle, medical care only partly to blame for similar trends in humans

Date:April 19, 2016
Source:Duke University

Numerous studies have shown that childhood trauma can have far-reaching effects on adult health and survival; new research finds the same is true for wild baboons.

People who experience childhood abuse, neglect and other hallmarks of a rough childhood are more likely to develop heart disease, diabetes and other health problems later in life, even after the stressful events have passed, previous research shows.

A new study from Duke University, the University of Notre Dame and Princeton University finds that wild baboons that experience multiple misfortunes during the first years of life, such as drought or the loss of their mother, grow up to live much shorter adult lives. Their life expectancy is cut short by up to ten years compared with their more fortunate peers.

The results are important because they show that early adversity can have long-term negative effects on survival even in the absence of factors commonly evoked to explain similar patterns in humans, such as differences in smoking, drinking or medical care, said Jenny Tung, an assistant professor of evolutionary anthropology and biology at Duke who co-authored the study.

The findings, scheduled to appear online April 19 in Nature Communications, come from a long-term study of 196 wild female baboons monitored on a nearly daily basis between 1983 and 2013 near Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya.

Life isn't easy for a wild baboon. Like many animals on the African savanna, baboons endure drought, overcrowding, disease and predation.

The researchers focused on six potential sources of early adversity. Some baboons, for example, saw very little rainfall in their first year of life, or experienced stiff competition for resources because of sibling spacing or rising numbers within their group. Others lost their mothers to death or illness, or had moms with lower rank or little social support.

More than three-fourths of the baboons in the study had at least one of the six early risk factors; 15 percent had three or more.

Baboons who lost their mothers before age four, or whose next-born sibling arrived before they were fully weaned, were found to be the most vulnerable.

For baboons, like humans, the tougher the childhood, the higher the risks of premature death later in life. Young females that experienced just one or no adverse events -- a group the researchers nicknamed the "silver spoon kids" -- generally lived into their late teens and early twenties, whereas those that endured three or more often died by age nine.






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