Connecticut Families Extra: Parental depression leads to kids’ health problems

Connecticut Families

About one in five kids in the United States lives with a parent with severe depression. Now a new study out of the University of Georgia says the effects of that can follow kids into adulthood.

Maybe it’s their looks or personality. There are many things that parents pass down to their kids.

Developmental health psychologist Katie Ehrlich wants to know how living with a depressed parent influences a child’s physical health down the line. Researchers collected data from about 400 kids six times during an eight-year period from age 11 to age 18.

“We had their parents report, self-report their depressive symptoms,” Ehrlich said.

Then when the kids were 25, they were asked to report on their own ability to avoid temptations, and engage in healthy behaviors, like eating a healthy diet and exercising. The researchers also took blood samples.

“We found was that the accumulation of risk of living with a depressed parent across adolescence was a risk factor for the onset of metabolic syndrome at age 25,” Ehrlich said.

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of factors, such as obesity, elevated triglycerides, and high blood pressure, which can lead to diabetes and heart disease.

Ehrlich said, “We’re looking at closer to a quarter of our sample, maybe even closer to a third of the sample that has metabolic syndrome at this point.”

But Ehrlich says that there are some protective factors that can reduce kids’ risk. The kids in the study who maintained healthy lifestyles and had high self-control were not at risk for metabolic syndrome in adulthood. This suggests that kids living with a depressed parent won’t necessarily have poor physical health but it’s important for them to focus on developing healthy habits and self-control so they can avoid physical health problems in adulthood.

The researchers have received funding to follow the kids for another five years into their 30s. And Ehrlich says half of these young adults now have kids of their own. they have started to recruit the next generation into their study.

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