Aug. 16, 2000 Regardless of socioeconomic status, people with a childhood history of ill health are more prone to certain diseases in adulthood, especially cancer, lung disease, cardiovascular conditions, arthritis and rheumatism, according to a Penn State researcher.
"Our findings show that persons with childhood health problems were twice as likely to develop cancer or chronic lung disease by late middle age. The prevalence of arthritis was about 33 percent higher among this group. However, they were not more likely to have diabetes," says Dr. Mark D. Hayward, professor of sociology and demography and director of Penn State's Population Research Institute.
"For these people, economic well-being -- both as children and adults -- apparently does not serve as a buffer against the long-term health effects of childhood illness," he adds.
Hayward and fellow researchers stress the policy implications of their data, noting that health care programs for children could offer considerable benefits for adult health care.
"Investing in children's health is sound policy for both individuals and societies," Hayward says. "Ultimately, the collective cost of health care to future generations of elderly will be reduced, which is especially important given that future generations of children are expected to live to older, and still older, ages."
Hayward is co-author of the paper, "Does Childhood Health Affect Chronic Morbidity in Later Life?" presented today (Aug. 13) at the annual conference of the American Sociological Association. His co-authors are Debra L. Blackwell, statistician demographer with the National Center for Health Statistics, Hyattsville, Md., and Eileen M. Crimmins, the Edna M. Jones Professor of Gerontology with the Andrus Gerontology Center, University of Southern California. The paper has been accepted for publication in a forthcoming issue of the journal, Social Science And Medicine.
The researchers based their conclusions on a sub-sample of 654 Americans from the 1996 Health and Retirement Study. The respondents in the study were nationally representative of persons between the ages of 55 and 65. Seventeen percent reported health conditions as children that prevented them from participation in sports for three or more months; caused them to miss one month or more of school; or forced them to remain in bed at home for one month or more.
Respondents reported whether they had ever been diagnosed with cancer (excluding skin cancer), diabetes, heart disease, cerebrovascular disease (high blood pressure or stroke), chronic lung illnesses (e.g. emphysema and bronchitis), arthritis and rheumatism.
Infectious and non-infectious childhood diseases have noticeably different impacts on the subsequent health of the adult. Hayward explains that, in this survey, non-infectious diseases were linked with higher rates of cancer, arthritis and rheumatism in later life, while infectious diseases were strongly associated with lung conditions such as emphysema and bronchitis.
This research was funded in part by grants from the National Institute of Aging and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
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