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Younger children in class at greater risk of suicide

CANADA

STUDENTS born in the second half of the school year have lower self-esteem, more academic problems and are more prone to suicide than their older peers, say researchers.

Drs Gus Thompson and Roger Barnsley's study of the computer records of 1,200 Alberta students found that those born in the second part of the school year scored almost 10 per cent lower in self-esteem tests than those born in the first part of the school year.

In the third grade, 22 per cent fewer members of the younger group were reaching acceptable academic standards.

By contrast, children whose parents held them back from first grade - thus making them the oldst in the class - performed best on self-esteem tests and got higher grades.

According to Dr Thompson, one of the most important implications of his study is the way it links in with recent work on teen suicide. Death records in Alberta from 1979 to 1992 show that teens born in the second part of the school year have a 20 per cent greater chance of committing suicide than their older peers - 303 suicides compared to 250.

"This data shows that the disadvantage of being the youngest in a class - which can include being smaller, less socially adept and less prepared for academic tasks - can persist into young adulthood," Dr Thompson said.

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