Children who are likely to turn into problem gamblers can be identified when they are only three years old, a new study shows.
Research from the University of Otago's long-running Christchurch Health and Development Study throws new light on a current issue - links between family income and other outcomes later in life such as health and educational achievement.
The study, by Dr Sheree Gibb and colleagues, just published in Social Science and Medicine investigated the impacts of family poverty on children up to the age of 10 years and how this is reflected in later life.
It revealed the link between children's temperament and future compulsive gambling.
The scientists found children who lacked behavioural and emotional control in 90-minute assessments taken as part of the study were twice as likely to develop a compulsive gambling problem by ages 21 and 32.
The association between that "undercontrolled" temperament and problem gambling could not be explained by differences in childhood intelligence or socioeconomic status, the researchers said.
"This level of prediction across nearly 30 years is remarkable considering that the classification of the children's temperaments was based on observing a child for only 90 minutes."
The 90 minute assessment conducted on three-year-olds appeared to predict future problem gambling as well as much more complex behavioural assessments, the study said.
It said the findings were the first to link a lack of childhood behavioural control with disordered gambling.
They were labelled an "important step" towards developing better strategies for preventing disordered gambling.
"Many questions remain to be addressed in future research, including the intriguing question of whether enhancing self-control and emotional regulation may help in redirecting some individuals who may be on a pathway to developing a gambling problem."
Toddlers who exhibited a lack of emotional control were also more prone to poor physical health, criminality and alcohol and other substance abuse, the study said.