Good parenting protects against chronic illness says professor of public health

11/10/04

Research reveals that good parenting not only helps to reduce criminality, conduct disorder and delinquency in children but could promote good health and prevent chronic disease in adulthood, says University of Warwick Professor of Public Health Sarah Stewart-Brown.

On 10th November 2004 at a Policy Briefing in London Professor Stewart-Brown will present findings from research on the impact of parenting on health. She is set to suggest that parenting is a key area for public health improvement and that it has a crucial role to play in the prevention of health inequalities.

Research indicates that widespread provision of help and support for parents could have an important beneficial impact on future mental and physical health. The impact of unsatisfactory relationships in childhood is revealed in a wide range of common health problems including, in some studies, cardiovascular disease, cancer, musculoskeletal problems, depression and attempted suicide. Poor quality relationships predict poor health independently of socio-economic circumstances.

Being a parent might seem the like the hardest job in the world, but it's also one of the most important. "Almost all parents aim to do the best for their children often in difficult circumstances and problems that arise are usually to do with approaches which have been passed down through the generations without being questioned. It is not that society is full of bad parents, it's just that many of us could do a better job if we were better prepared", says Professor Stewart-Brown from the University of Warwick.

The quality of relationships in the home in childhood effects both mental and physical health in adulthood. The public health impact of programmes to improve parent-child relationships is likely to be significant. Although effective programmes have been developed in the UK, there is a need for wider availability and more opportunities for parents to attend.

Three national birth cohort studies of children all born in one week, starting in 1946, 1958 and 1970 reveal that the more severe problems are with parent-child relationships, the greater the impact on health impact.

In the 1970 study between 1 in 5 and 1 in 10 young people reported relationship problems and in the 1958 cohort, 5% reported poor relationships with their mothers and 8% with fathers. Young people reporting poor relationships had a 50-100% increase in risk of multiple health problems in adulthood. In the 1946 cohort, the 2.6% of subjects reporting abusive/ neglectful relationships had an increased risk.of more than ten fold.

Professor Sarah Stewart-Brown added: "Parenting frequently hits headlines because of its role in the development of antisocial behaviour. However, parenting also has an important impact on future health, both mental and physical. Parental relationships impact on both health and behaviour by influencing emotional and social development. So parenting also has a role to play in preventing key health problems like prevention of teenage pregnancy, drug and alcohol misuse and childhood obesity."

"Fortunately it is possible to help parents develop their parenting and the . potential health impact of programmes that support parenting is yet to be widely appreciated"

Source: Eurekalert & others

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