Monday, March 24, 2008

Stressed Parents Equals Sick Kids

Couple arguing, girl (12-13 years) covering eyes with hands, waist up

STRESSED parents aren't just damaging their own health - they may also be making their children more vulnerable to illness.

Stress is well known to affect a person's own physical health, but the effect on their children's health was unclear. To investigate, Mary Caserta and her colleagues at the University of Rochester in New York asked the parents of 169 children aged between 5 and 10to monitor their child's health over three years, recording symptoms of illnesses and taking their temperatures.

Every six months, the parents took a test designed to assess their own psychiatric health, noting markers of stress such as anxiety or depression.

Caserta's team found that the total number of illnesses, both with and without fever, was significantly higher in the children of parents who reported high levels of emotional stress. The team also measured the levels of immune cells in the children, and found those with highly stressed parents were much more likely to have heightened immune activity - a sign that they were working hard to fend off infection (Brain, Behavior and Immunity, DOI: 10.1016/j.bbi.2008.01.007)

David Jessop at the University of Bristol in the UK calls the results fascinating, and thinks that future studies should aim discover which stress factors have the biggest impact on children's immunity.

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