When parents are supportive, children become healthier adults
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Children with caring and involved parents are more likely to have relatively good physical and mental health throughout adulthood, according to researchers from the University of Michigan and State University of New York at Albany.
Those with neither helpful nor available parents are more likely to have poorer health as adults, the researchers say.
The findings—from a sample of 2,905 adults, ages 25-74—were published in the March issue of Psychology and Aging. Studies have also found that adult psychological and physical health is influenced by the amount of social support adults receive. The researchers investigated whether the health effects of parental support received during childhood persist throughout adulthood into old age.
If additional research supports these findings, the authors say the implications may be far-reaching for predicting who is at elevated risk for ill health in late life, and for improving the physical and mental health of older adults.
"The risk for physical and mental illnesses play out during the entire life course, and the seeds are planted early," said Neal Krause, professor of health behavior and health education in the School of Public Health and one of the authors. "This study points to the need to improve parent-child relationships early in life."
The researchers analyzed responses from adults who participated in the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States in 1995. The participants were asked about the availability of emotional support from their mothers and fathers during their childhood. Depressive symptoms, chronic health conditions and self-esteem were also assessed through survey questions.
Results of the study indicate that adults' current mental and physical health is influenced not only by current psychosocial conditions, but also by earlier life psychosocial conditions dating back to childhood, including parental support. The researchers found a lack of parental support during childhood is associated with increased levels of depressive symptoms and chronic health conditions such as hypertension, arthritis and urinary problems in adulthood, and this association increases into early old age. The association appears to be more strongly linked to mental health than physical health problems, which may be due to differences in how these problems develop over time, according to the authors.
"These findings are important because they not only reveal a strong association between early parental support and adult health status, but also provide some preliminary insight into factors that link early social conditions with adult health and well-being," said Benjamin Shaw, an assistant professor at the School of Public Health, SUNY Albany, and lead author.
The authors also noted some limits in the study, such as the respondent's family history of mental or physical health problems. In addition, no distinctions were made between the support of a biological parent and support from another adult responsible for child rearing, such as a step-parent or grandparent.
In addition to Krause, the other U-M researchers were Linda Chatters, associate professor in the School of Social Work; Cathleen Connell, professor of health behavior and health education in the School of Public Health; and Berit Ingersoll-Dayton, professor in the School of Social Work.
Contact: Jared Wadley