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Prevalence of negative life events and chronic adversities in European pre- and primary-school children: results from the IDEFICS study

Barbara Vanaelst12*, Inge Huybrechts13, Ilse De Bourdeaudhuij4, Karin Bammann56, Charalambos Hadjigeorgiou7, Gabriele Eiben8, Kenn Konstabel9, Nathalie Michels1, Denes Molnar10, Luis A Moreno11, Iris Pigeot5, Lucia Reisch12, Alfonso Siani13, Krishna Vyncke12, Stefaan De Henauw1 and on behalf of the IDEFICS Consortium

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health, Ghent University, UZ-2BlokA De Pintelaan 185, 9000, Ghent, Belgium

2 Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO), Egmontstraat 5, Brussels, Belgium

3 Dietary Exposure Assessment Group, International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Lyon, France

4 Department of Movement and Sport Sciences, Ghent University, Watersportlaan 2, 9000, Ghent, Belgium

5 Bremen Institute for Prevention Research and Social Medicine, University of Bremen, Achterstr. 30, 28359, Bremen, Germany

6 Institute for Public Health and Nursing Care Research, University of Bremen, Postfach 330440, 28344, Bremen, Germany

7 Research & Education Institute of Child Health, 8 Attikis Str, 2027, Strovolos, Cyprus

8 Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, Public Health Epidemiology Unit, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden

9 National Institute for Health Development, Hiiu 42, 11619, Tallinn, Estonia

10 National Institute of Health Promotion, University of Pécs, Gyermekklinika, József Attila utca 7, 7623, Pécs, Hungary

11 GENUD (Growth, Exercise, Nutrition and Development) research group, School of Health Sciences, University of Zaragoza, Domingo Miral s/n, 50.009, Zaragoza, Spain

12 Department of intercultural communication and management, Copenhagen Business School, Porcelanshaven 18A, DK-2000, Frederiksberg, Denmark

13 Epidemiology & Population Genetics, Institute of Food Sciences, CNR, Via Roma 64, 83100, Avellino, Italy

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Archives of Public Health 2012, 70:26  doi:10.1186/0778-7367-70-26

Published: 22 November 2012



Children are not always recognized as being susceptible to stress, although childhood stressors may originate from multiple events in their everyday surroundings with negative effects on children’s health.


As there is a lack of large-scale, European prevalence data on childhood adversities, this study presents the prevalence of (1) negative life events and (2) familial and social adversities in 4637 European pre- and primary-school children (4–11 years old), using a parentally-reported questionnaire embedded in the IDEFICS project (‘Identification and prevention of Dietary- and lifestyle-induced health EFfects In Children and infantS’).


The following findings were observed: (1) Certain adversities occur only rarely, while others are very regular (i.e. parental divorce); (2) A large percentage of children is shielded from stressors, while a small group of children is exposed to multiple, accumulating adversities; (3) The prevalence of childhood adversity is influenced by geographical location (e.g. north versus south), age group and sex; (4) Childhood adversities are associated and co-occur, resulting in potential cumulative childhood stress.


This study demonstrated the importance of not only studying traumatic events but also of focusing on the early familial and social environment in childhood stress research and indicated the importance of recording or monitoring childhood adversities.

Child; Life events; Adversity; Prevalence; Stress; Epidemiology