March 24, 2004 -- Supportive parents may not only build happier and healthier children, but new research suggests those positive effects may last a lifetime.
Previous studies have already shown that children who receive high levels of support from their parents report fewer psychological and physical problems. But for the first time, a new study shows that those healthy effects persist throughout adulthood.
The results appear in the March issue of the journal Psychology and Aging.
Parental Support Fosters Good Health
In the study, researchers analyzed data from a survey of nearly 3,000 adults aged 25-74 who participated in the National Survey of Midlife Development.
The participants were asked about the level of emotional support provided by their parents during their childhood with questions such as "How much did you confide in her or him about things that were bothering you?" and "How much love and affection did she or he give you?"
The survey also assessed the respondent's depressive symptoms, chronic health conditions, and self-esteem.
Researchers found that the adults' current mental and physical health was strongly influenced not only by current levels of emotional support, but also by parental support they received in childhood.
Specifically, a lack of parental support in childhood was linked to increased levels of depressive symptoms and chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure, arthritis, and urinary problems in adulthood.
The link appeared to be stronger for mental health problems than physical ones, but researchers say that may be due to differences in how chronic health conditions develop over time.
"Early parental support appears to shape people's sense of personal control, self-esteem and family relationships, which in turn affect adult depressive symptoms and physical health," says researcher Benjamin Shaw, PhD of the University at Albany, State University of New York, in a news release.
Shaw says if further studies confirm these results, tools may be created to identify people at risk for mental and physical health problems later in life and develop interventions to reduce this risk.