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ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Year : 2018  |  Volume : 62  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 21-26  

Influences of Gender, Religion, Dietary Patterns, and Mixed-sex Education on Aggressiveness in Children: A Sociodemographic Study in Municipal Primary Schools of South Delhi


1 Research Associate, Bhagwan Mahavir International Research Centre, Ladnun, Rajasthan, India
2 PhD Scholar, Department of Yoga and Science of Living, Jain Vishva Bharti Institute, Ladnun, Rajasthan, India
3 Executive Director, Bhagwan Mahavir International Research Centre, Ladnun, Rajasthan, India
4 Emeritus Professor, Department of Yoga and Science of Living, Jain Vishva Bharti Institute, Ladnun, Rajasthan, India

Date of Web Publication6-Mar-2018

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Viney Jain
Department of Yoga and Science of Living, Jain Vishva Bharati Institute, Ladnun - 341 306, Rajasthan
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/ijph.IJPH_346_16

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   Abstract 


Background: Increasing antisocial and violent behaviors in adolescents and young adults present serious challenges for public health. Children with persistent high levels of aggressiveness are often associated with developing conduct disorders later in life. Early detection of highly aggressive children and sociodemographic risk-modifying factors are important for developing effective preventive strategies. Objectives: The present study was undertaken to assess levels of aggressiveness for detecting highly aggressive children in sample populations of primary school children in an urban setting and determine significant biosociocultural risk-modifying factors in this scenario. Methods: The study was conducted during August–September, 2015 in 5 primary schools of South Delhi Municipal Corporation. Sociodemographic data on 2080 students were collected. Overall aggressiveness scores (OA-Scores) were estimated using a self-report questionnaire in Hindi. Results: Categorizing students according to their OA-Scores, the data revealed that highly aggressive children constituted 4.3% of the study population. Analysis showed significant influence of (a) gender: boys displayed higher levels of aggressiveness compared to girls; (b) dietary pattern: omnivores showed higher aggressiveness than vegetarians; and (c) school environment: boys in mixed-sex (coeducational) schools displayed lower aggressiveness than from single-sex schools. Statistically significant influences of religion (Hindu/Muslim) and family type (joint/nuclear) on aggressiveness profiles were not noticeable. Conclusions: Vegetarian diets and mixed-sex education act as protective factors in the development of aggressiveness in children, especially among boys. Extending investigations to populations differing in geography and cultural backgrounds are warranted to verify present results.

Keywords: Childhood aggression, coeducation, gender differences, overall aggressiveness, peer influences, primary school children, risk-modifying factors, self-report, vegetarian diet


How to cite this article:
Jain K, Sharma S, Prajna SC, Jain V. Influences of Gender, Religion, Dietary Patterns, and Mixed-sex Education on Aggressiveness in Children: A Sociodemographic Study in Municipal Primary Schools of South Delhi. Indian J Public Health 2018;62:21-6

How to cite this URL:
Jain K, Sharma S, Prajna SC, Jain V. Influences of Gender, Religion, Dietary Patterns, and Mixed-sex Education on Aggressiveness in Children: A Sociodemographic Study in Municipal Primary Schools of South Delhi. Indian J Public Health [serial online] 2018 [cited 2020 Jul 12];62:21-6. Available from: http://www.ijph.in/text.asp?2018/62/1/21/226619




   Introduction Top


Global trends of increasing aggressiveness, particularly among the youth, pose serious public health problems that result in considerable suffering to individuals and heavy socioeconomic burdens to the society.[1],[2] In India, incidences of disruptive behavior and violent crimes by adolescents and minors have increased markedly during recent years. National Crime Record Bureau reported an increase of more than 1.5 times in violent crimes between 2003 and 2013.[2] The reasons for increasing violence among the youth include diverse interacting biological, socioeconomic, and sociocultural environmental factors. In developing countries, poverty and urban environments have been identified as major risk-enhancing factors.[3]

Aggression can be defined as behavior directed toward causing harm to physical/social environments, which include living beings and objects.[4] Harm includes the physical as well as psychological hurt/injury. Aggression can be an impulsive emotional reaction to a perceived threat (reactive) or a premeditated goal-directed act (proactive). Aggression is adaptive behavior, rooted basically in biology, but liable to be modulated significantly by environmental influences. It is multifaceted and can be displayed physically and/or verbally in many direct and indirect ways.

Studies in developmental biology have confirmed that aggressive behavior begins early in life, reaching a peak between 2 and 4 years of age, which gradually declines in most children.[5] However, in some children, aggressiveness levels do not decline, become stable or even increase. Persistent high childhood aggressiveness may give rise to the development of conduct disorders (CDs) and juvenile delinquency later in life.[6] CD includes many antisocial behaviors such as stealing, lying, substance abuse, sexual assaults, destructive and violent crimes, homicides, and attempted suicides. Considerable efforts are being made worldwide to develop preventive interventions which can be administered to children and adolescents at an early age. Collection and analysis of epidemiological data on aggressiveness profiles in children, with efforts to identify the risk-modifying factors, are important for development and implementation of effective preventive strategies.

Identification of children having high aggressive tendencies can be carried out in primary schools since the patterns of aggressive behavior become apparent and discernible at the school entry age.[7] The presently available instruments for assessment of aggressiveness are based on (1) behavioral observations by third parties and (2) self-reports by individuals themselves. Observational methods mainly recognize physical and verbal aggression but do not provide information about the attitudes, intent, or psychological state.[8] Several self-report questionnaires have been developed to measure aggressiveness and are being used in studies to assess the magnitude of the problem and to evaluate prevention strategies.[9],[10]

In India, systematic and comprehensive studies on aggressiveness in children and its prevention have been severely lacking. Among the few previous studies, the majority have focused on adolescents and youth. Recently, a pilot study was conducted on primary school children from low socioeconomic population sample in Delhi. The study showed that practice of a simple module of yoga-preksha-dhyan (YPD), developed especially for children, could effectively reduce aggressive behavior leading to significant improvement in the school environment.[11] We have, therefore, initiated a comprehensive research program to systematically study the effects of YPD on aggressiveness in individuals recruited from several primary schools located in urban and rural environments.

Within this framework, the current study was undertaken with the following objectives: collect basic epidemiological data on aggressiveness profiles to detect highly aggressive individuals among primary school children from low socioeconomic sections in an Indian urban environment and determine important sociodemographic risk-modifying factors in this scenario.


   Materials and Methods Top


Sample size estimation

The sample size for the current study was estimated on the basis of the previous pilot study. For a confidence level of 95% and confidence interval of ±2% (with a z-score 1.96), the desired sample size was estimated to be 2401. Five South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) primary schools in Chattarpur, Mehrauli area of New Delhi, whose authorities agreed to participate in the study were selected.

Study sample and setting

Clearance from Ethical Committee of the Institute and permission from Department of Education, SDMC, New Delhi was obtained to conduct the study on the school students. Informed consent in the prescribed form was obtained from the parents/guardians of the participants before starting the study. The data were collected during the academic session 2015–2016.

The recruited sample consisted of 2080 healthy school children from IIIrd, IVth, and Vth standards of the 5 SDMC primary schools located in Chattarpur, Mehrauli and its neighboring areas in the metropolitan city of New Delhi. Healthy controls whose parents had given consent were included; those suffering from any serious physical or mental disabilities were excluded.

Study parameters

The sociodemographic variables such as age, gender, religion, type of diet, type of family, and type of school were recorded on prescribed forms.

Validity and reliability of the instrument used to assay aggressiveness

The instrument to quantitatively assess levels of aggressiveness among the children was a simplified Hindi version of a self-report questionnaire.[9] The questions pertained to 16 actions related to reactive and proactive aggressive tendencies. Students in the class were asked to truthfully answer each question on a 4-point scale. The options ranged from: rarely (1); sometimes (2); often (3); and very often (4). Thus, on this scale, the overall aggressiveness score (OA-score) is measured between 16 (minimum) and 64 (maximum).

The content validity of the instrument was determined by a competent psychologist, the convergent validity was r = 0.5 (P = 0.01), and discriminant validity for anxiety scale was r = 0.012 (P = 0.01). The questionnaire was tested three times at monthly intervals to determine the internal consistency and reliability (test-retest reproducibility). The Cronbach’s alpha for internal consistency was found to be 0.87. The test-retest reliability in the present study population was 0.6 (P = 0.001).

Identification of highly aggressive children

The OA-scores of the self-report questionnaire provide an estimate of aggressive tendency in an individual student. Children with OA-scores between16 and 32 were broadly categorized as low/nonaggressive, those with OA-scores 33–48 as moderately aggressive, and children with OA-scores 49–64 as highly aggressive.

Statistical analysis

Data collected on printed datasheets were double entered into Microsoft Excel Sheet and validated. A clean database was generated and copied into IBM SPSS Statistics for Windows, Version 20.0. (Armonk, NY: IBM Corp) for further analysis. Imputation of missing values in various parameters was done through SPSS using multiple imputation option. Frequency distributions of OA-scores in the study population were analyzed and associations with different sociodemographic variables were examined for statistical significance using Chi-square test, P ≤ 0.01 was considered significant.


   Results Top


The sociodemographic characteristics

The individuals in the study sample (851 boys and 1229 girls) belonged to low socioeconomic status families of unskilled (laborers, helpers, maids) or semiskilled (masons, cooks, gardeners, watchmen, tailors, electricians, plumbers etc.) wage earners. Majority of parents were either illiterate or studied up to middle school level. The average family income varied between Rs. 10,000 and 25,000 per month.

Students attending III–V classes were between 7 and 14 years of age (average 8.7 ± 1.0). According to WHO classification, 83% were children (age group 7–10 years) and 17% were young adolescents (age group 11–14 years, average 11.6 ± 0.7). Majority (78%) were from Hindu families and rest (22%) were Muslims. Among the study population, 54% ate meat at home (omnivores) whereas 46% excluded meat from their diets (ovo-lacto vegetarians). Students were provided with mid-day meals in the schools consisting of traditional North Indian vegetarian diet (dal, roti, rice, and vegetables). According to data, 80% children lived in nuclear families (only parents and siblings), whereas 20% children lived in joint families. Sixty-eight percent children’s mothers were homemakers; 32% mothers also in earnings by working outside home.

Overall aggressiveness profile (scores)

[Figure 1] shows the distributions of the OA-score measured using the self-report questionnaire. The distribution is asymmetric and varies over a large range. The average OA-score of the sample is 33.4 with a standard deviation of 7.8. Median of the sample is 32.6, interquartiles are Q1 = 28.0 and Q3 = 38.0 and interquartile range is 10. From the distribution of the OA-Scores, 3 subgroups of children were distinguished. Low/nonaggressive children (OA-Scores range 16–32) comprised 47.3%; moderately aggressive (OA-Score: 33–48) were 48.4%; and highly aggressive individuals (OA-Score: 49–64) constituted only 4.3%.
Figure 1: Frequency distribution of overall aggressiveness score of primary school children in South Delhi municipal schools, New Delhi.

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Identification of major risk and protective factors

The recorded data were analyzed to discern influences of some major biological (gender, age) and sociocultural demographic variables (religion, dietary patterns, types of families and schools) on the aggressiveness profiles. The results summarized in [Table 1] and [Table 2] show that in the population of school children studied, gender (male/female), dietary patterns (omnivorous/vegetarian), and type of school (single sex/mixed sexes) significantly influence the aggressiveness levels whereas the effects of age (children/early adolescents), religion (Hindu/Muslim), and family type (joint/nuclear) are smaller and statistically insignificant.
Table 1: Influence of sociodemographic variables on overall aggressiveness scores of primary school children

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Table 2: Influence of single-sex versus mixed-sex school environment on overall aggressiveness scores in primary school children

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   Discussion Top


Aggression and violence are quite frequent in the Indian society, yet there is a severe lack of quantitative empirical data on childhood aggression. Studies on children before the onset of adolescence are important because this is a period for rapid mental and physical changes involved in shaping the adaptive behavior traits in response to environmental challenges and children are more likely to respond to behavioral interventions.

In this context, the present study provides important information on the aggressiveness profile of primary schoolgoing children from lower middle class background living in urban environment of a large North Indian city.

Overall aggression profile and identification of highly aggressive individuals

Aggressive behaviors have been shown to be common in school children throughout the world; the data indicate significant regional differences in magnitudes and forms.[12] While most children in the present sample display low or moderate levels of aggressive behavior, a small percentage (4.3%) is identified to be highly aggressive. The large interindividual variations observed in the present study population [Figure 1] are to be expected because the development of aggressive behavior is an outcome of complex interactions between multiple genetic and environmental factors.

Studies on childhood aggression in India are very few. A recent study on 366 children studying in 1–4 grades in private schools of Bangalore city estimated an overall prevalence of aggressive behaviors (including moderate and high levels) to be about 30%,[13] a value that is lower than the present data. This could be due to regional variations; however, the study samples and the methodologies in the two studies are very different.

Quantitative comparisons of the present results with previous studies are difficult because of differences in the study samples, settings, and methodologies. Majority of investigations in India provide data only on average aggression scores without information on the distributions of aggression levels. Furthermore, most studies have been conducted on small samples of adolescents and young adults.[3],[14],[15],[16]

Major risk and protective factors

Information on the influences of various demographic risk-modifying factors revealed by the analysis of data on aggressiveness profiles with respect to the sociodemographic variables is briefly discussed below.

Influence of age

There is a wide range in student’s age (7–14 years, mean 9.3) in the present study sample; this is because in the low socioeconomic status families, some children begin school at a higher than usual age. According to WHO criteria, 17% students in the present study population could be classified as young adolescents (11–14 years).

The average OA-Score in the age group 7–10 years (33.5 ± 5.6) declined somewhat (33.1 ± 4.3) in the early adolescent (11–14 years). This is mainly due to a small increase in the number of students in the low/nonaggressive category from 46.7% to 50.0%. The percentage of highly aggressive individuals, however, remained almost the same (about 4%), indicating persistence of high levels of aggression in these children. Decreasing trends in levels of aggressiveness in most children after about 5 years of age have been generally reported in previous studies.[5] The number of students in early adolescent group being small in the present sample observed differences are statistically insignificant (P = 0.24).

Influence of gender

The present data showing that boys have significantly higher levels of overall aggression as compared to girls are in conformity with earlier studies on adolescents in schools in India.[14],[15],[16],[17] The highly aggressive category was estimated to be more than five times in boys (8.2%) than in girls (1.5%). Interestingly, the prevalence of CDs and juvenile delinquency among boys is also much higher than in girls.[2],[17]

The magnitudes of gender differences in aggressive behaviors reported in several countries with different ethnic and cultural backgrounds vary and are somewhat controversial.[12],[16] This may be partly because of differences in methodologies to assay aggressiveness, age-related developmental changes, and variations in the biosociocultural demographic characteristics of study samples. In a few studies, particularly from Europe and America, the aggressiveness in girls has been observed to increase over time, which has been explained by changing perceptions about the role of women in the modern societies.[18] Majority of studies, however, agree that independent of ethnicity and cultural backgrounds, boys in general are physically more aggressive than girls[12],[16] while girls display greater relational aggression.

Gender-related differences in behavior are primarily based on biological characteristics resulting from differences in the genetic makeup of males and females as reflected in their sex chromosomes (XY vs. XX).[19] Gene–environmental interactions of boys and girls could vary affecting their susceptibility to physical and social stress. This may affect aggressiveness. Differences between males and females in the expressions of a number of genes, hormonal levels, brain structures, and functions have been documented.[20],[21],[22]

Influence of dietary patterns

In India, a large part of population does not eat meat; many families have been vegetarians for generations. There is a popular perception that vegetarians/vegans are less aggressive than nonvegetarians although it has not been supported by any reliable observational or empirical evidence. Data from the present study indicate that children from omnivore families, who consume meat with their diets, are on the average more aggressive than vegetarians. The prevalence of high aggressiveness among omnivores is estimated to be 5.1% as against 3.2% in vegetarians. Present results, which are statistically highly significant, provide support to an association between aggressiveness and consumption of meat. This initial epidemiological evidence, if confirmed by more comprehensive and holistic cross-cultural investigations, could have important implications for personal lifestyle, public health, and also for basic research in nutritional and behavioral sciences.

Diet contents have long been known to affect mood, behavior, and susceptibility to disease. Meat-containing diets are characterized by high energy (calories) intake with high contents of proteins, fats, and iron. Compared to the nonvegetarian diets, the Indian vegetarian diets are generally rich in carbohydrates and have less fat, protein, Vitamin B12, and zinc contents.[23] Randomized clinical trials have documented that restrictions of meat, fish, and poultry in omnivorous diets are associated with happy mood states.[24] Epidemiological studies have provided evidence that vegetarian diets are generally associated with lower incidences of several psychosomatic chronic diseases.[25] The protective effects of the vegetarian diets could be due to higher levels of antioxidants in vegetarian diets and lower levels of oxidative stress in vegetarians as compared to omnivores.[26] This possibility needs to be investigated in children, particularly in relation with aggressiveness and delinquent behavior.

Influence of religion

In India, Hindu and Muslim families differ significantly in their eating habits, lifestyles, attitudes, and moral values. The average OA-Score in Muslims (34.3 ± 8.1) was observed to be slightly higher than in Hindus (33.4 ± 7.6). The highly aggressive students among Hindus (3.8%) were also lower as compared to Muslims (5.7%). These differences may suggest a trend of higher aggressiveness in Muslim children. However, this might be partly due to higher percentage of omnivores in Muslims. The present differences being statistically insignificant need to be verified by further studies on larger samples.

Influence of family type

Family types are broadly classified as nuclear or joint. Data [Table 1] indicate that the family type did not influence the aggression profile of children in the present study population.

Influence of school type

The overall school environment, the classroom ecology, and interactions between peers are important factors that can modify the child’s socializing process impacting the development of prosocial or antisocial behaviors.[27],[28]

The presence or absence of peers of opposite sex represents a major variable in the school and classroom environments. The present results [Table 2] show that the aggressiveness profile of boys attending mixed sex (coeducational) schools is significantly lower than that of boys going to boys-only schools. Notably, the percentage of highly aggressive boys in boys-only school is observed to be much higher (11.9%) than in coeducational schools (2.3%). Among girls, the trend is reversed, girls in coeducational schools display somewhat higher aggressiveness than in girls-only schools.

Lower levels of average classroom aggression and reduced aggressiveness in boys in coeducational schools may be a consequence of rejection of aggressive behavior by girls. On the other hand, higher probability of association of girls with aggressive boys could enhance aggressiveness in girls.

Strengths and limitations of the present study

The strengths of the present cross-sectional study are (i) the large sample size of more than 2000 children from a relatively similar socioeconomic status families, (ii) identification and reliable estimates of highly aggressive subpopulation, and (iii) first evidence of nonvegetarian diets as a risk-enhancing factor for the development of aggressive behavior.

There are, however, several limitations pertaining to the study design and methodology used. The study sample remained confined to primary schoolgoing children from municipal corporation schools in a particular locality of New Delhi restricting the generalizations of the results. OA has been assessed only by a self-report questionnaire without analyzing subtypes of aggression. Associations of OA score with only the gross types of diet, family, and schools have been analyzed. The dietary patterns, which are known to be diverse, have been categorized in a general way as omnivorous and vegetarian, without any further details about the contents. Details of school environments and community environments and quality of relationships within the family and with peers have not been gathered. Further studies are needed to overcome these limitations.


   Conclusions Top


Despite the limitations, the epidemiological data presented in this study draw attention to (i) exclusion of meat from the diets and (ii) education in the coeducational elementary schools as important protective factors against the development of high aggressiveness and antisocial behaviors, especially in boys. Considering the implications of the study for youth violence, large-scale investigations in populations with different geographical and cultural backgrounds are needed to extend and verify the generalizability of the present results.

Acknowledgments

Office space and working facilities were extended by AdhytamaSadhana Kendra, New Delhi. Thanks are due to Director, Department of Education, SDMC, New Delhi for granting permission to conduct the study and to Principals, class teachers, staff and students of participating schools for their cooperation. Special thanks to Shri Y. P. Pahuja, former Principal and Late Swami DharmanandJi for their interest, suggestions and guidance. We are very grateful to Samani Charitra Pragya Ji, former Vice-Chancellor, JVBI, for encouragement and advice.

Financial support and sponsorship

Financial support was provided by Bhagwan Mahavir International Research Centre, Jain Vishwa Bharti Institute (Deemed University), Ladnun.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
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