In adults, lower cognitive function has been linked to poorer physical health and health related quality of life. In children, research has suggested that higher cognitive ability, including intelligence, may be related to an age adjusted lower risk of death in adulthood.
Childhood is an important time in development during which interventions can improve long-term health outcomes. Researchers investigated the magnitude of the association between childhood intelligence and major causes of death in adulthood and possible mechanisms by which these factors may be associated.
Data from a large group of people born in Scotland in 1936 were analysed. In 1947, 94% of this population who were registered as attending school in Scotland completed a general intelligence test. Date and cause of death of those with available data was analysed.
Higher scores on the intelligence test were associated with a lower risk of death due to coronary heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, digestive disease, external causes of death and dementia. With regards to death due to specific cancers, only smoking-related cancers were found to be associated with childhood intelligence test scores in this study.
Encouraging children to engage in education and other cognitive tasks is an important part of their development. In addition to the potential benefits to physical health and risk of death reported in this study, nurturing good cognitive abilities and habits early in life may lead to increased function across the life course.
Maintaining high levels of cognitive ability into old age can help protect against age related mental conditions including dementia.