It's fairly obvious that the children of sick parents are more likely to get sick themselves, but a new study found that this is true even when genetic factors are ruled out. Among disadvantaged families, the children of sick mothers are more likely to be unhealthy than those raised by poor but healthy moms. It's more evidence that we need to make sure everyone has better access to medical treatment, not just kids, but if you're waiting for lawmakers to respond, don't hold your breath. (If you pass out and hit your head, you'll be forced to take your chances with American healthcare system!)
After reviewing nationally representative data from the 2007 and 2008 National Health Interview Surveys, researchers found that when compared to disadvantaged but healthy mothers, kids raised by disadvantaged and unhealthy moms are five times more likely to suffer from worse overall health. (Participants had to meet a criteria for family income, ethnicity, family structure, and mother's level of education to qualify as "disadvantaged.") The children of unhealthy mothers were also much more likely to end up in the emergency room and suffer from asthma and learning disabilities.
The researchers found that children weren't just inheriting health issues from their parents. As it turns out, attempting to care for children when you aren't well and may have little support is tremendously difficult. Co-author Jessica Halliday Hardie explains:
"Mothers who experience frequent or serious health problems may have a harder time monitoring their children or performing day-to-day caretaking tasks, including taking their children to regular medical checkups ... Maternal health problems can also place emotional and material burdens on children and heighten their stress and anxiety. Finally, to care for herself, an unhealthy mother may have to use financial resources that could otherwise benefit her children."
It isn't hard to understand that having a sick mother can have a long-term impact on a child's health, but Hardie and co-author Nancy S. Landale say they hope these facts will inform lawmakers (who aren't exactly known for their ability to use common sense) that they have to make a bigger effort to provide healthcare options to poor moms. They write:
"Knowing that maternal health strongly predicts child well-being could put additional pressure on policy-makers to help unhealthy mothers, particularly those who are disadvantaged.This undertaking would also benefit the children of these mothers."
That's definitely good to know — if you genuinely want to improve Americans' heath. Unfortunately too many politicians are more interested in being on the right side of the healthcare debate than actually doing what's right for disadvantaged families.
Image via Stanislav Fridkin/Shutterstock.