When parents have difficult childhoods, their own children are more likely to experience health issues, including asthma, according to a new study.
Previous studies have shown adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are linked with physical and mental health issues in adulthood. To look more closely at the impact on the next generation, researchers conducted phone surveys with 350 parents from Philadelphia. Results are detailed in the study “Intergenerational associations of parent adverse childhood experiences and child health outcomes” (Lê-Scherban F, et al. Pediatrics. May 21, 2018, https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2017-4274).
The findings indicate that pediatricians should take a “two-generation approach” to treating children, researchers said.
“Although parent ACEs cannot be undone because they already occurred, interventions may promote resilience and mitigate any impact of parents’ past experiences on their own and their child’s well-being,” authors wrote.
Researchers asked parents about their childhood experiences, including conventional ACEs like abuse, neglect and household substance abuse. They also expanded the definition of ACEs to include community-based stressors like witnessing violence, racial discrimination and bullying.
About 85% of parents had experienced a conventional or community-based ACE, and 18% experienced at least six.
In adjusted models, parental ACEs increased the odds of their child having good/fair/poor health as opposed to excellent/very good. They also increased the odds of the child having asthma and watching excessive amounts of TV.
The survey did not look at the reasons behind the associations. There did not appear to be a link between parental ACEs and children’s access to health care, intake of fruits and vegetables, soda consumption or physical activity.
Authors said there may be other factors not captured by the study “resulting in stressful or unhealthy living circumstances that could affect offspring health.”
“Research is needed in which authors focus not only on intergenerational risk factors, but also on resilience factors that enable effective parenting and promote child health despite past adversities experienced by parents,” authors wrote.