Family Problems May Produce Chronic Health Issues

Chronic health problems in kids more common in families investigated for child abuse

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) An unstable home could have all sorts of negative outcomes for children. For example, children living in an unstable home may be more likely to have chronic health problems later in life.

That's the finding of a research study that looked at the rates of chronic health problems in children whose families were investigated by state welfare agencies.

The researchers looked for a wide range of chronic health conditions and symptoms in these children.

They found that these kids were up to twice as likely to have long term health problems as other children.

"Ask a pediatrician how to improve your child's health."

The study was led by Ruth E.K. Stein, MD, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City.

The study included 5,872 children, from newborn up to age 17, whose families had been investigated for child abuse by a state agency between February 2008 and April 2009.

The families of the children were interviewed within four months of the initial investigation to find out whether the children had been diagnosed with a chronic health condition and/or whether the child suffered symptoms of chronic health conditions.

These symptoms included life-threatening allergies, serious physical or developmental delays, serious emotional problems, being blind or nearly blind and being deaf.

Possible diagnoses the families were asked about included asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), AIDS, autism, Down syndrome, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, mental developmental disabilities, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, heart problems, arthritis, high blood pressure and other conditions.

The researchers used two different methods to determine chronic health conditions in the children. One method was to ask about diagnoses, while the other was to ask about categories of symptoms in case the child had not yet been diagnosed. Researchers found high rates of chronic conditions using both measures.

Results showed that 31 percent (using conservative measures) to 49 percent (using liberal measures) of the children were reported by their caregiver to have at least one chronic health condition.

These rates were about one and a half to two times what would be expected in the general US population of children.

Older children, boys and those receiving special education services were more likely than others to have a chronic health condition. However, there was no link between which children had chronic health conditions and whether they had been placed out of their homes following the investigations.

The researchers concluded that it's important to recognize that children in these more socially unstable homes or who enter foster care may be more likely to have serious chronic health problems.

Thomas Seman, MD, a pediatrician at North Shore Pediatrics in Danvers, Mass. and a dailyRx expert, said his practice regularly sees children like those in this study.

"This study does not come as a surprise to any physician who takes care of these wonderful children," Dr. Seman said. "The various environments to which these poor children are subjected is deleterious to their well being.".

Dr. Seman said the goal is that every child has a primary care pediatrician who can regularly evaluate the child.

"These children have a hard time getting consistent regular health care, often using the emergency rooms of the local hospitals. Then, lacking the follow-up care further jeopardizes the child's health and long-term well-being."

The study was published February 18 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 17, 2013
Last Updated:
March 4, 2013