March 3 (HealthDay News) -- Kindergarteners who are impulsive and inattentive could be susceptible to gambling by the time they reach sixth grade, a Canadian study suggests.
Impulsiveness can lead to many problems, such as dropping out of school, substance abuse, antisocial behavior and unemployment, and now gambling has been added to the list, the researchers said.
"There is something that's an underlying factor for both the impulsivity and the gambling," said lead researcher Dr. Linda S. Pagani, a professor at Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center and the University of Montreal. "In adulthood, problem gambling is considered an impulse disorder," she added.
Teachers can often see a potential problem in children who are easily distracted, restless and inattentive, Pagani said. "These are things that are problematic in kindergarten," she said.
The children in the study weren't children who had been diagnosed with a learning problem, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Pagani said. "This is on typically developing children," she said.
Pagani said that about 15 percent of children suffer from these impulse problems, especially boys. "We need to focus on finding ways to improve their attention in the early childhood years," she said.
The findings were published in the March issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
For their study, Pagani and her colleagues included 163 kindergartners. The researchers asked their teachers to rate the children's inattentiveness, distractibility and hyperactivity on a scale of one to nine. Six years later, when the children were 11 and in the sixth grade, the researchers asked them how often they played cards or bingo for money, bought lottery tickets, played video games or video poker for money, or bet on sports.
The researchers found that for each 1-unit increase on the impulsivity scale in kindergarten, there was a 25 percent increased risk for gambling in the sixth grade.
Pagani said teachers can work with children when they are young to improve attention and thereby eliminate these problems later in life.
When children are young, they can learn "effortful control," in which the child makes an effort to focus, Pagani said. "We can eliminate attention problems by the use of intervention programs that help children develop attention," she said. "If we can improve their attention by one unit, then we can improve their outcomes by 25 percent."
Parents, too, should be on the lookout for signs of attention problems in their children, Pagani said. "Often children don't meet the criteria for ADHD, it doesn't mean we should just overlook it," she said. "It means we need to spend more time to teach them how to stop, look and listen."
John W. Welte, a principal investigator at the Research Institute on Addictions at the University at Buffalo in New York, agreed that a lack of self-control in kindergarten can lead to gambling and other problem behaviors.
"I think the findings are very credible," Welte said. "I expect impulsivity to predict gambling involvement and eventually predict problem gambling," he said.
The potential problems aren't limited to gambling, Welte said. "The psychological traits, of which impulsivity is one, that predict a problem with gambling later on in life are universally shown to predict criminal offending and involvement with alcohol and drugs," he said.
"The persons with weak impulse control have the tendency to do things that feel good now, even though they have bad consequences in the long run," he said.
SOURCES: Linda S. Pagani, M.D., Professor Ecole de Psychoeducation, Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center and the University of Montreal, Canada; John W. Welte, Ph.D., principal investigator, Research Institute on Addictions, University at Buffalo, N.Y.; March, 2009, Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine