Children who live with only one parent before their seventh birthday have a higher chance of smoking and drinking than their peers.
New research from University College London studied data from nearly 11,000 children born between September 2000 and January 2002, with the kids and their families looked at during five different stages; when the children turned nine months, three, five, seven and 11 years old.
When the children reached seven, one in four were living with one parent and it was found this group was 2.5 times more likely to have tried smoking by the age of 11 compared to those who had always lived with both parents. The figure dropped to 1.5 when factors, including maternal age at birth and parental education level, were taken into account.
The same group was also more likely to have started drinking alcohol, with a 46 per cent increase.
“What we know from previous studies is that parental absence experienced in childhood is associated with smoking and alcohol consumption in adulthood,” Rebecca Lacey, one of the study authors, commented. “What we have tried to look at here is to see whether parental absence is associated with those behaviours in childhood.”
The study is published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, with Rebecca explaining the research highlights the impact stressful beginnings can have on children.
“Some children, perhaps, seem to be taking up smoking and alcohol as ways of coping with this,” she added.
There was no link between smoking and drinking and which parent was absent, or the age which the absence began. It’s also not clear if the absence of a parent triggers children to start smoking and drinking.
“We know these things are associated but we don’t know that one causes the other,” Rebecca said.
Professor Russell Viner, officer for health promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, has called on the British government to make sure all schools teach personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) classes, to help children understand the dangers of smoking and drinking.
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