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Research reveals impact of poverty and adversity on adolescent health

In the UK today, persistent poverty or persistent poor parental mental health affects over four in ten children, researchers from the University of Liverpool have found.

The combination of poverty and poor parental mental health affects one in ten children, and is strongly associated with adverse child outcomes, particularly poor child mental health, reveals the study.

The researchers from the University of Liverpool, Newcastle University, King’s College London and Stockholm University used longitudinal data from the UK Millennium Cohort study which followed over 11,000 children to age 14.

Compared with children exposed to low poverty and adversity, children who were persistently exposed to parental alcohol use, domestic violence and abuse, poor parental mental health or poverty experienced worse outcomes, with those exposed to persistent poor parental mental health and poverty at a particularly increased risk of socioemotional behavioural problems, cognitive disability, drug experimentation and obesity.

 

Corresponding author Dr Nicholas Kofi Adjei said: ‘This study is the first to assess the clustering of trajectories of child poverty and multiple indicators of family adversities – including parental mental ill health, domestic violence and abuse, alcohol misuse and their impacts on subsequent child behaviour and health outcomes in adolescence – in a representative UK sample.

‘Our longitudinal analysis provides strong evidence that adverse conditions have important effects on children’s lives, but it is even more detrimental when multiple risk factors co-occur. The findings add to the current body of evidence by showing that poor parental mental health and poverty co-occur or cluster and their persistence across the developmental stages is associated with adverse child outcomes, particularly poor child mental health.

‘The study demonstrates that interventions to address specific childhood adversities may not be meaningful if childhood socioeconomic conditions are not considered.’

Professor David Taylor-Robinson, the senior author on the study, outlined several policy recommendations following the analysis: ‘The cluster of poverty and poor parental mental health is common, and particularly harmful to children’s health. In the UK, immediate policy considerations include increasing child benefits and the child support element in universal credit uplift reversing changes to the welfare system that have led to rising child poverty, re-investing in support services and children’s preventive services such as children’s centres, and improving access to mental health services for families.’

Photo by Nicolò Canu

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