Lack of parental support during childhood is associated with poorer adult mental & physical health

03/15/04

WASHINGTON -- People with abundant parental support during childhood are likely to have relatively good health throughout adulthood, whereas people with inadequate parental support while growing up are likely to have poorer health as adults, suggests a new study involving a nationally representative sample of nearly 3,000 adults. The findings are reported on in the March issue of Psychology and Aging, a journal published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Research has long showed that children who receive abundant support from their parents report fewer psychological and physical problems during childhood than children who receive less parental support. Studies have also found that adult psychological and physical health is influenced by the amount of social support adults receive. Now, Benjamin A. Shaw, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the School of Public Health, University at Albany and colleagues from the University of Michigan investigated for the first time whether the health effects of parental support received during childhood persist throughout adulthood into old age.

The researchers analyzed responses from 2,905 adults, ages 2574, who participated in the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States. The participants were asked about the availability of emotional support from their mothers and fathers during the years they were growing up, such as "how much could you confide in her or him about things that were bothering you?" and "how much love and affection did she or he give you?" 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 persists with increasing age throughout adulthood 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," says Dr. Shaw. "In this study, we found that the association between early parental support and adult health may be largely due to the long-term impact of parent-child relationships on important psychosocial resources. Specifically, early parental support appears to shape people's sense of personal control, self-esteem and family relationships, which in turn affect adult depressive symptoms and physical health."

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. "Instead of only considering the impact that contemporaneous psychosocial resources and experiences may have on the physical and mental health of adults and older adults, health practitioners may need to cast a much broader net that encompasses earlier life conditions dating as far back as childhood."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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