Trauma from parents' youth linked to poorer health, asthma in their own children

June 5, 2018 by Frank Otto, Drexel University

Trauma experienced by a parent during childhood has long-reaching consequences—maybe even to the point of negatively impacting their own children's health, a new Drexel University study found.

"It is well known that adverse childhood experiences can lead to serious and wide-ranging effects on the of the people who go through them," said Félice Lê-Scherban, Ph.D., the study's lead researcher and an assistant professor in Drexel's Dornsife School of Public Health. "A lot of these health problems—such as substance abuse, depression or chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease—can affect how care for their kids and the environments where they grow up."

"Adverse childhood experiences" are described as serious traumas or stress a person experiences during their formative years. This might include something like abuse or exposure to violence and/or drugs. The study, published in Pediatrics, looked into surveys taken by 350 Philadelphia parents who answered questions about their own "ACEs."

It found that for every type of "ACE" a parent went through, their children had 19 percent higher odds of poorer health and 17 percent higher odds of having asthma.

"If we only look at the within-individual effects of ACEs, we may be underestimating their lasting impact on health across multiple generations," Lê-Scherban said of the study team's motivations. "Looking intergenerationally gives us a more comprehensive picture of the long-term processes that might affect children's health."

"By the same token, acting to prevent ACEs and helping those who have experienced them can potentially have benefits extending to future generations," Lê-Scherban added.

Among the parents who were surveyed:

  • Nearly 42 percent said they'd witnessed violence (seeing someone shot, stabbed or beaten) as a child
  • 38 percent said they lived with a problem drinker or someone who used illicit drugs during their youth
  • Roughly 37 percent said that they had been physically abused as children

While those were the most common ACEs, there were many others that received strong responses, including experiencing racial discrimination and sexual abuse.

Overall, 85 percent of parents experienced at least one ACE. The more ACEs a parent had suffered as a child, the more likely their own children were to have poorer health status.

One of the other areas that Lê-Scherban and her fellow researchers focused on was behavior in the survey respondents' children that could have an impact on health. They found that each ACE a parent had experienced was tied to an additional 16 percent higher odds that their children would have excessive TV-watching habits. While not a direct health outcome, it sets up a child for potentially poorer health habits down the line.

And though ACEs are more prevalent in populations low on the socioeconomic scale, that doesn't explain everything, Lê-Scherban said.

"It's important to remember that ACEs, and their effects, occur across the socioeconomic spectrum," Lê-Scherban commented.

While the links can't be definitively established as causal yet, they suggest that it's important to keep studying the multigenerational effects that trauma has on health, according to Lê-Scherban.

"We need to know more about the specific pathways through which parental ACEs might harm child health so we can minimize these harms," she said. "On the flip side, it's important to learn more about the factors that promote resilience to help parents and their thrive despite past trauma."

Explore further: Immigrant parents report fewer adverse childhood experiences than US-born parents

More information: Félice Lê-Scherban et al, Intergenerational Associations of Parent Adverse Childhood Experiences and Child Health Outcomes, Pediatrics (2018). DOI: 10.1542/peds.2017-4274

Related Stories

Immigrant parents report fewer adverse childhood experiences than US-born parents

September 15, 2017
A new study found immigrants reported fewer potentially health-harming adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse, violence, or divorce, than native-born Americans. The findings, which will be highlighted in an abstract ...

Hispanic children and exposure to adverse experiences

October 11, 2017
A new study of national survey information gathered on more than 12,000 Hispanic children from immigrant and U.S.-native families found that although they experience more poverty, those from immigrant families reported fewer ...

How compassion can triumph over toxic childhood trauma

April 5, 2018
In a recent piece on the television show 60 Minutes, Oprah Winfrey discussed childhood trauma —shining a public spotlight on the lasting effects of abuse and adversity in childhood. Oprah herself is a survivor of childhood ...

Witnessing drug problems or domestic violence causes greater asthma incidence

April 2, 2015
No home is perfect, but dysfunction in the home is now revealed to be especially dangerous for children at risk for asthma. A new study shows that children exposed to just one adverse childhood experience (ACE) had a 28 percent ...

Study finds ADHD and trauma often go hand in hand

May 6, 2014
When children struggle with focusing on tasks, staying organized, controlling their behavior and sitting still, they may be evaluated for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Clinicians, however, shouldn't stop ...

Higher use of general health care services throughout adult life linked with traumatic childhoods

July 12, 2017
Experiencing physical, sexual or emotional abuse as a child, or other stresses such as living in a household affected by domestic violence, substance abuse or mental illness, can lead to higher levels of health service use ...

Recommended for you

Balanced advice needed to address 'screen time' for children, study shows

August 20, 2018
Parents, health professionals and educators need clear and balanced information to help manage young children's use of mobile touch-screen devices in Australia, new research by Curtin University has found.

Bilingual children who speak native language at home have higher intelligence

August 20, 2018
Children who regularly use their native language at home while growing up in a different country have higher IQs, a new study has shown.

Teen tattoos: Half of parents concerned about negative health effects, impact on employment

August 20, 2018
Seventy-eight percent of parents in a national poll had a clear answer when asked how they would react if their own teen wanted a tattoo: absolutely not.

First biomarker evidence of DDT-autism link

August 16, 2018
A study of more than 1 million pregnancies in Finland reports that elevated levels of a metabolite of the banned insecticide DDT in the blood of pregnant women are linked to increased risk for autism in the offspring. An ...

The inequalities of prenatal stress

August 14, 2018
Exposure to an acute stress in utero can have long-term consequences extending into childhood – but only among children in poor households, according to a new Stanford study that looked at the long-term impact of acute, ...

Promoting HPV vaccine doesn't prompt risky sex by teens: study

August 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—Controversial state laws that promote vaccinating kids against the human papillomavirus (HPV) do not increase the likelihood that teens will engage in risky sexual behavior, a new study contends.

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.