- Early parental loss defined as loss of a
biological parent before 7 years of age.
- Children with early parental absence twice as
likely to start smoking before 11 years.
- They were 46% more likely to start drinking
before 11 years.
- Child's sex, age at loss and which parent was
missing did not matter.
Loss or absence of at
least one biological parent in early childhood was associated with an increased
risk among children of smoking and drinking alcohol even before they entered
their teens, indicates a recent research undertaken in the United Kingdom.
Reason For The Study
Earlier studies have
indicated that early loss of a parent was associated with a lower degree
of physical and mental health in their
adulthood, and an increased risk of taking up smoking
and drinking during
adolescence and later in life.
‘Early loss or absence of a biological parent before seven years of age may be tied to the onset of risky behaviors such as smoking and drinking even before teens.’
However, little information is available on whether
such early loss of a parent could be linked to the onset of risky health
behaviors such as smoking and drinking even earlier during the pre-teens, whether
such behavior was influenced by the child's sex, age at parental loss and which
parent was lost
Details of The Study
The researchers analyzed
data from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, which has been following the health of
almost 19,000 children that were born between 2000 and 2002, in periodic surveys.
The first of these
surveys was undertaken when the babies were 9 months old, with further surveys when the
children were 3, 5, 7 and 11 years old.
When they were 11 years
old, the children were also asked during the survey whether they had ever
smoked or consumed alcohol, and if they had ever consumed enough to feel drunk.
The researchers had
complete information on almost 11,000 children, of which more than 25 percent
had experienced the 'loss' of a parent before the age of 7.
Absence of parent was
characterized as the 'loss' of a biological parent before the child turned 7
Findings of the Study
Overall, most children reported not having smoked before the
age of 11, and among those that had, boys (3.6%) were more likely to have done
so in comparison to girls (1.9%)
Boys were more likely
(nearly 15%) to have tried it when compared to girls (around 10%). Among the
children who had consumed alcohol, around twice as many of the boys--nearly 12%
reported that they had drunk enough amounts to feel drunk as compared to girls
Children who had experienced loss of a parent before the age of 7
, were more than twice as likely to have started to smoke and 46% more
likely to have started drinking alcohol by the age of 11.
These findings were seen
to be present even after taking into account the factors that could play an
important role, such as educational qualifications of the parent(s); mother's
nativity; mother's age at parenthood; history of smoking during pregnancy;
duration of pregnancy; and birthweight.
Also, the child's sex, their age of having first
experienced parental absence, or which parent was absent, had no impact
How Reasons for Parental Loss Could Impact the Results
The reasons for loss of
a parent could be death or due to parental
, separation or other reasons.
Children who had lost a parent through death were less likely to have drunk alcohol by the age of 11. However, those that did, were 12 times more likely to get drunk than in comparison to children whose parent was absent for other reasons.
between parental absence and early smoking and alcohol consumption may operate
through a range of mechanisms, such as reduced parental supervision,
self-medication, and adoption of less healthy coping mechanisms," write
nicotine in particular demonstrates psychoactive properties and may have
benefits for mood regulation."
Lessons from the Study
The findings of this mirror similar such
studies in this area, underscoring the fact that health behaviors established in early life may influence such patterns
in later life
Since this is an observational study, no
concrete inferences can be made from the findings about cause and effect.
Similar to all long term studies, missing data could be a potential source of
bias. Also, no information was taken into on parental absence between the ages
of 7 and 11, which may have influenced the study findings, the researchers say.