A brown teddy bear with a bowtie laying on a hospital bed. Image by Mylene2401 from Pixabay is licensed under Pixabay license.

It’s no secret that childhood can influence the trajectory of adult life. Childhood disadvantages like financial strain and low socioeconomic status impact mental and physical development, which can set the stage for worse health outcomes in adulthood. Matthew A. Andersson and colleagues wanted to understand whether access to quality healthcare might limit the influence of childhood disadvantage on adult well-being.

To answer this question, Andersson and colleagues compared data from 16 countries, testing whether and how the quality and accessibility of European healthcare systems influence the illness rates of adults who experienced adverse childhood events. The researchers measured childhood disadvantage using information on childhood poverty, household conflict, and whether a parent was deceased or away from home. Healthcare quality and access were measured through both objective measures (how many adults in a country experience illness, the amount a country spends on healthcare, and the size of the healthcare system) and subjective measures (whether people in a country felt they had access to high-quality healthcare).

The researchers found that access to a good healthcare system – one that effectively prevents and manages disease –  reduced the effect of childhood adversity on adult health. In fact, the better the quality of a nation’s healthcare system the more it acts as a buffer against poor health outcomes.

This research shows how access to decent healthcare makes a real difference in shaping life outcomes. Quality healthcare may not eliminate childhood adversity, but it can offer the possibility for a healthier future for all.