Parental incarceration raises children’s heart risks

Parental incarceration raises children's heart risks

The Impact of Parental Incarceration on Young Adults’ Heart Health

Parental Incarceration and Heart Health

Parental incarceration is a challenging situation for young adults, often accompanied by social stigma. But beyond the societal and emotional impacts, a new study reveals that it may also have significant effects on their heart health. Dr. Elizabeth Tung, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, led a team of researchers to investigate this little-studied topic, aiming to understand the association between having a parent in jail and cardiovascular risks.

The Study and its Findings

The study analyzed data from over 9,600 young adults aged 33 to 44 from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. The researchers discovered that 14.1% of all participants, and specifically 21.4% of Black participants, reported having a parent or parental figure who had been incarcerated during their childhood.

The findings showed that individuals who had experienced parental incarceration were more likely than their peers to develop high blood pressure later in adulthood. Moreover, these young adults had elevated levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation often used by health experts to estimate the risk of future cardiovascular events.

However, the study did not find a direct correlation between parental jail time and other cardiovascular risk factors such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease. The researchers note that these markers typically manifest in middle age and beyond.

A Call for Societal Change

Dr. Tung emphasizes the importance of considering the broader implications of parental incarceration on public health and the disparities associated with it. She calls upon society to reevaluate its approach to incarceration – particularly the racial disparities within the criminal justice system – and recognize how they contribute to overall health disparities.

Providing Support to Affected Families

In light of these findings, Dr. Tung suggests various resources that can help families dealing with parental incarceration. Legal specialists can offer support and connect families to social services and public benefits, helping to alleviate economic insecurities that arise when a parent is in prison. Additionally, clinicians can provide family counseling and mental health resources to affected children.

Healthcare practitioners are urged to consider the impact of a parent’s incarceration on family health and assess the support needed. However, due to the existing stigma associated with serving jail time, questions about this topic may be met with resistance. Dr. Tung calls for the destigmatization of parental incarceration and emphasizes the need to focus on public health rather than criminality when addressing these issues.

Future Research and Broader Perspective

Moving forward, Dr. Tung and her team plan to explore the connections between parental incarceration and other critical dimensions of public health, including social isolation and mental health outcomes like suicide. By shedding light on these areas, they hope to uncover further insights and pave the way for more comprehensive support systems.

The study’s findings were published in the prestigious journal JAMA Cardiology on August 30, 2023.

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The abbreviated term ADHD denotes the condition commonly known as:

  1. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

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More Information

For further information about social determinants of health, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website.

Source: University of Chicago Medicine, news release, August 30, 2023