by Stephen Kwabena Effah

November 20, 2017


Your parents’ lifestyles can determine your health – even as an adult

The research on 21,000 people from 13 countries shows our parents’ lifestyles determine our own health.

We don’t choose our parents, their jobs or their health. And we don’t have a say in whether or not they smoke, nor in what they ate when we were children. However, our recent study found that these things strongly determine our own lifestyles and health, even into adulthood.

For our study – involving 21,000 participants aged 50 and above from 13 European countries – we compared the participants’ current smoking, obesity and lack of exercise with their parents’ job, longevity, smoking status and alcohol problems during the participants’ childhoods.

We showed that parents’ characteristics when participants were ten years old explained between 31 percent and 78 percent of their adult health, with a European average at 50 percent.

The countries where health was largely determined by parents’ characteristics were Czech Republic (78 percent), Germany (72 percent), Spain (70 percent), France (66 percent) and Austria (64 percent).

However, parental factors mattered less in Belgium (31 percent), the Netherlands (34 percent) and Switzerland (41 percent).

The importance of parents’ characteristics for their children’s health is explained by two mechanisms.

First, poor living conditions in childhood lead to poverty in adulthood – which affects health.

Second, health is transmitted from parents to children.

Beyond the obvious common genetic inheritance across generations, parents’ health also has an impact on their children’s health by imparting habits and lifestyles.

Our research found that if a parent smoked when their child was young, the child was much more likely to smoke as an adult, in all countries except Sweden.

A person’s obesity in later life was more frequent when their parents were smokers and had a problem with alcohol when the child was ten in Germany, Greece and Austria.

In Denmark, obesity was only associated with parents having a problem with alcohol; in France it was associated with parents being smokers.

We also investigated the odds that a person would smoke – using national survey data from France – based on their parents’ smoking and social background.

We found that if a person’s father smoked when they were 12, they were almost twice as likely to smoke than people whose father did not smoke at all, controlling for education level and parents’ job.

If mothers smoked, it increased the risk of their daughters smoking – but not their sons.

The risk that a person would smoke was also higher among those whose father was a manual worker, and who had experienced periods of poverty during their childhood.

The countries where health was largely determined by parents’ characteristics were Czech Republic (78 percent), Germany (72 percent), Spain (70 percent), France (66 percent) and Austria (64 percent).

However, parental factors mattered less in Belgium (31 percent), the Netherlands (34 percent) and Switzerland (41 percent).

The importance of parents’ characteristics for their children’s health is explained by two mechanisms.

First, poor living conditions in childhood lead to poverty in adulthood – which affects health.

Second, health is transmitted from parents to children.

Beyond the obvious common genetic inheritance across generations, parents’ health also has an impact on their children’s health by imparting habits and lifestyles.

Our research found that if a parent smoked when their child was young, the child was much more likely to smoke as an adult, in all countries except Sweden.

A person’s obesity in later life was more frequent when their parents were smokers and had a problem with alcohol when the child was ten in Germany, Greece and Austria.

In Denmark, obesity was only associated with parents having a problem with alcohol; in France it was associated with parents being smokers.

We also investigated the odds that a person would smoke – using national survey data from France – based on their parents’ smoking and social background.

We found that if a person’s father smoked when they were 12, they were almost twice as likely to smoke than people whose father did not smoke at all, controlling for education level and parents’ job.

If mothers smoked, it increased the risk of their daughters smoking – but not their sons.

The risk that a person would smoke was also higher among those whose father was a manual worker, and who had experienced periods of poverty during their childhood.

Source MailOnline

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