The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Spring
2016

Thursday, April 21, 2016 (Volume 4: Issue: 14)

The Topic: Preserving Good Health 

The News Story: Secrets of the Very Old and Healthy—Start When You’re Young

The New Research: Two Parents=One Healthy Adulthood

 

The News Story: Secrets of the Very Old and Healthy—Start When You’re Young

“When it comes to getting old, some of us are a lot better at it than others,” begins a short essay on preserving health at NPR this week.

Scientists, according to the story, have been doing some interesting research to determine what exactly separates those who enjoy a healthy old age from those who do not. The healthy elderly are “much more likely to have a lower resting metabolic rate” and also “have fasting glucose numbers more typical of people in their 20s.” Another key factor is attitude—those who have positive attitudes about aging are more likely to enjoy good health in their old age. Another interesting finding is that physical health in old age tends to run in families: “Clearly those families must be doing something right,” writes the author.

And while eating their veggies and staying active may be some of the things such families are “doing right,” research indicates that another thing they might be doing is staying together.

(Source: Nancy Shute, “Secrets of the Very Old and Healthy—Start When You’re Young,” NPR, April 18, 2016.)

 

The New Research: Two Parents=One Healthy Adulthood

As national healthcare costs spiral out of control, few questions press themselves more insistently than those predicting long-term health. Investigating precisely such questions, a team of researchers at the University of California-Berkeley and the University of California-San Francisco recently completed a study designed to determine what childhood circumstances put individuals on a trajectory of healthy living and what childhood circumstances propel individuals toward a lifetime of illness. The findings of this study underscore the long-term importance of an intact family in fostering good health. 

In order to identify the “social determinants of health across the lifecourse,” the California scholars parse data collected in 2007 and 2008 from an ethnically diverse sample of 400 men and women living in the San Francisco area. Through statistical analyses of these data, the researchers isolate a number of childhood circumstances that predict the quality of an individual’s adult health, measured through both self-rating and physical functioning. One of these circumstances—namely, the structure of the family in which a person experiences his or her childhood—merits particular attention.

In simple bivariate models, the researchers find that a childhood spent with two parents strongly correlates with an adulthood of good health, whether measured by self-report (p = 0.0003) or by physical functioning (p = 0.001). What is more, these statistical linkages prove so robust that they persist in statistical models taking into account childhood and adult socioeconomic status. In other words, growing up with two parents fosters good long-term health even if those parents are not particularly well off.

The California scholars conclude their study by opening the possibility of using an expanded version of their study design “for investigating the underpinnings of socioeconomic and racial/ethnic disparities in health status.”  Given the findings of this study, it is hard not to suppose that family structure will emerge as a key variable in explaining those disparities as well.

(Source: Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King, “New Research,” The Family in America 27.4.1 [Fall 2013]. Study: Irene H. Yen et al., “A Community Cohort Study about Childhood Social and Economic Circumstances: Racial/Ethnic Differences and Associations with Educational Attainment and Health of Older Adults,” BMJ Open 3.4 [2013]: e002140, Web.)