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Close relationships between parents and children have long term health benefits

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21 Sep 2016

Children who are mistreated or lack warm relationships with their parents also have higher rates of and disease as adults

A strong and loving bond with parents may help protect childrens’ health for decades, according to research.

Childhood abuse or mistreatment offsets the health advantages of growing up in a well-off home. The study on Midlife Health and Parent-Child Relationships has been published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour.

According to research from the Baylor University in Texas, more than 2,700 adults between the ages of 25 and 75 were asked how their parents had treated them during childhood.

Around a decade later, nearly 1,700 participants completed follow-up surveys, allowing their health to be looked at during middle-age. 

For the study, health at midlife was defined as being free from 28 possible conditions, including cancer, circulatory or respiratory disease, endocrine diseases, nervous system diseases, infectious and parasitic diseases, skin or digestive disease and musculoskeletal conditions.

The study revealed that childhood abuse continued to undermine any protection from disease linked to childhood socioeconomic advantage.

Matthew Andersson, an assistant professor of sociology in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences, Houston, said “Previous research has associated high socioeconomic status with better childhood nutrition, sleep, neighbourhood quality and opportunities for exercise and development of social skills. But good parent-child bonds may be necessary to enforce eating, sleep and activity routines”.


If parent-child relationships are strained or abusive, children may be more likely to eat sugary or high-fat foods as snacks or even in place of meals.

Sleep and activity routines also may become irregular, keeping children from developing healthy lifestyles and social and emotional skills useful for successful aging, Andersson said.

On the flip side, good parent-child bonds in economically disadvantaged homes, while they promote health, do not seem to lessen the negative impact of low socioeconomic status as the children age.

Previous research has shown parents with less education and fewer financial advantages are more likely to threaten or force obedience rather than have constructive dialogue, and that may lessen warm relationships.

“Much research continues to view socioeconomic status and parent-child bonds as highly related or even interchangeable. But in fact they may quite independently influence a child’s well-being,” Andersson said.

“The key takeaway is that without adequate parent-child relationship quality to match, socioeconomic advantage during childhood may not offer much protection at all against major chronic disease as children become adults and reach middle age.”


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