Death of a parent during childhood is associated with greater mortality in early adulthood

July 22, 2014

Experiencing the loss of a parent during childhood or adolescence is associated with a greater risk of mortality, according to a study published in this week's PLOS Medicine. The study, conducted by Jiong Li and colleagues from Aarhus University in Denmark, finds that individuals who lost either a mother or a father during childhood had a greater risk of mortality in the years following the parent's death compared with people unaffected by parental death during childhood.

The researchers reached these conclusions combining data from national registries from all children born in Denmark (1968 to 2008) and Sweden (1973 to 2006), and 89% of children born in Finland (1987 to 2006). Of these children, 189,094 (2.6%) lost a parent when the child was between 6 months and 18 years old. A total of 39,683 individuals died over the follow-up period, which ranged from 1 to 40 years. The researchers found that those exposed to parental death had a 50% greater risk of during the study period than those unexposed to parental death. This increased risk of mortality persisted into early adulthood irrespective of child age at parental death. A greater risk of mortality was found among children whose parent died from unnatural causes compared with natural causes (84% vs. 33% increase in risk of mortality, respectively), and was greatest for children who lost a parent due to suicide.

Because the study was undertaken in high-income countries, these findings are unlikely to be the result of a lack of material or healthcare needs. Rather, the increased mortality among the exposed children likely reflects both genetic susceptibility and the long-term impacts of parental death on health and social well-being.

The authors say: "parental death in was associated with a long-lasting increased from both external causes and diseases, regardless of child's age at bereavement, sex of the child, sex of the deceased parent, cause of parental death, as well as population characteristics like socioeconomic background"

They continue: "[These] findings warrant the need for health and social support to the bereaved children and such support may need to cover an extended time period."

Explore further: Losing a family member in childhood associated with psychotic illness

More information: Li J, Vestergaard M, Cnattingius S, Gissler M, Bech BH, et al. (2014) Mortality after Parental Death in Childhood: A Nationwide Cohort Study from Three Nordic Countries. PLoS Med 11(7): e1001679. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001679

Related Stories

Losing a family member in childhood associated with psychotic illness

January 21, 2014
Experiencing a family death in childhood is associated with a small but significant increase in risk of psychosis, suggests a paper published today in BMJ.

Children showing signs of social withdrawal in risk of internalized distress

June 12, 2014
Children are showing signs of social withdrawal are more susceptible to parental influences than others. These children were also more prone to distress caused by the impacts of guilt-inducing parenting.

When a parent dies, what helps a child cope?

March 14, 2014
(HealthDay)—It's hard to imagine what a child may feel when a mother or father dies. Studies have found this crisis can pose serious psychological and developmental problems for years. Now new research suggests kids' academic ...

Parental death increases odds of lower grades, school failure

March 10, 2014
(HealthDay)—Children who experience parental death are more likely to have lower grades and school failure, according to a study published online March 10 in Pediatrics.

After child dies, mom's risk of early death skyrockets: study

June 27, 2012
In the first two years following the death of a child, there is a 133% increase in the risk of the mother dying, a new study from the University of Notre Dame shows.

Avoiding abuse: Empathy, realistic expectations key to raising a child with disabilities

July 14, 2014
Children with developmental disabilities are at higher risk for abuse and neglect from parents than children developing at a typical rate. So far, there was little evidence of specific parental behaviors that were associated ...

Recommended for you

Why sugary drinks and protein-rich meals don't go well together

July 20, 2017
Having a sugar-sweetened drink with a high-protein meal may negatively affect energy balance, alter food preferences and cause the body to store more fat, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Nutrition.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

High-dose vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles for children

July 18, 2017
Giving children high doses of vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles, a new study has found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.