BACKGROUND: Risk behaviours in adolescence are linked to poor educational attainment and health and other outcomes in young adulthood. We explored whether there are molecular mechanisms associated with the development, or the result, of multiple risk behaviours (MRBs).

METHODS: MRBs (antisocial behaviour and delinquency, traffic-related risk behaviour, risky sexual behaviour, lack of exercise) and their sumscore were characterized based on self-reported questions at age 7 and 17 within the ARIES subsample of the ALSPAC birth cohort, and were linked to DNA methylation at over 485,000 CpG sites at ages 0,7 and 17. Associations were determined for participants with complete data (n = 227-575).

RESULTS: There was weak evidence of associations between cumulative MRBs and methylation at cg01783492 and cg16720578 at age 17. DNA methylation at age 17 was associated with risky sexual behaviour (cg22883332), lack of exercise (cg03152353, cg20056908, cg20571116) and substance use (cg02188400, cg13906377). No associations between DNA methylation and individual risk behaviours at age 7 were observed. DNA methylation at age 7 might predispose for traffic-related risk behaviour (cg24683561) and substance use (cg08761410) at age 17.

LIMITATIONS: Main limitations are absence of information on directly measured blood cell type proportions and tissue specificity, and a modest sample size.

CONCLUSIONS: Cumulative MRB in late adolescence was associated with effects on DNA methylation. More specifically, risky sexual behaviour and sedentary behaviour are associated with changes in DNA methylation, while DNA methylation in childhood may predict later traffic-related risky behaviour. For substance use effects in both temporal directions were observed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)588-594
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Early online date15 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018

Structured keywords



  • Adolescents
  • DNA methylation
  • Epigenetics
  • Multiple risk behaviour
  • Risk behaviour


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