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Childhood Poverty: It Can Cause Health Issues Later In Life

First Posted: Feb 29, 2016 12:34 PM EST

Researchers at Purdue University have found that growing up in poverty or being abused by ones parents can create a series of health problems later in life.

The study is based on data from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States that consists of close to 1,800 adults. The information was collected in two waves; the second a decade later in order to measure health changes in the adult population. The first occurred in 1996 when respondents were 25-74 and the second when they were between 35-84 in 2006.

"Health problems and quality of life issues were a concern during the first wave of the study. However, when we revisited the study's adult participants 10 years later, childhood poverty and frequent abuse were related to the onset of new health problems, such as cancer and heart disease, even after we adjusted for risk factors including health lifestyle and socioeconomic status said Kenneth F. Ferraro, distinguished professor of sociology, in a news release.

During the study, researchers measured family composition, which included if both parents were present in their child(ren's) lives. The link between each of these childhood experiences, as well as 14 adult outcomes, were also examined for potential mediating effects. 

Findings showed that family composition only affected four of the 14 outcomes, including the likelihood of smoking and financial strain during adulthood, according to the study. In comparison, childhood poverty affected nine outcomes, with parental abuse affecting 11 outcomes. 

The study considered both physical and verbal abuse as issues that could increase the risk of health problems in children later in life. 

"It's also possible we have underrepresented the relationship between childhood disadvantage and later-life health problems because those most severely affected were not able to participate in a social survey," Ferraro said. "But, now that we have identified some of the early origins of adult disease, we should focus on greater resources, even during midlife, to break the chain of risks."

The study was published in the American Sociological Review.

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