The relationship a child has with his or her parent early in life can set up the child’s own cardiovascular health for the teenaged years, and mothers and fathers have different influences on these trends.
Published in Preventive Medicine in March 2018, the study examines the effects that parent/child relationships in childhood could have on the development of cardiovascular risks by adolescence.
Researchers used 917 parent-child pairs from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, investigating physical health and features as well as social elements of child/parent relationships and how they impacted cardiovascular health markers later in life.1 The team found that overall, parent relationships had significant effect on cardiovascular health markers, but whether these effects were good or bad relied on the type of relationship and the parent involved.
Relationships with fathers were associated with increased growth rates of triceps skinfold thickness in teenaged girls, but not teenaged boys, according to the report. Additionally, conflict scores that were higher in maternal/daughter dyads led to increased growth rate in body mass index (BMI) percentiles among teenaged girls, whereas there were lower rates of BMI growth in paternal/son dyads with high conflict levels. Hostile paternal/daughter relationships were associated with increased triceps skinfold thickness in girls.
Although these measurements may seem insignificant in the teenaged years, they are indicators of lifelong health status. “A number of psychosocial stressors influence the development of cardiovascular health measures in youth,” the report notes.
Parental involvement and support early in life have long been shown to have significant impact on lifelong growth and development, but this study highlights that both positive and negative relationships impact health development, and that parental gender plays a role as well.
The research team concludes that close mother-son relationships may be preventive to heart health, and that overall a warm parental connection among boys is a safeguard against the physical and psychological fallout from chronic exposure throughout the rest of their lives.
1. Niu Z, Tanenbaum H, Kiresich E, et al. Impact of childhood parent-child relationships on cardiovascular risks in adolescence. Prev Med. 2018;108:53-59.