Background: Event-based measures suggest that emotional adversity in childhood has a long-term health impact, but less attention has been paid to chronic emotional stressors such as family conflict, harsh discipline or lack of affection. This study aimed to assess the impact of the latter on health problems and illness in adulthood.
Methods: Logistic regression and multinomial logistic regression analyses of data collected in three UK national birth cohort studies at ages 43 and 16 years covering subjective report of relationship quality from the 'child', and number of health problems and illnesses reported in adulthood at ages 43, 33 and 26 years adjusted for social class, sex and, in 1946 and 1970 cohorts, for symptoms of mental illness.
Results: Reports of abuse and neglect (1946 cohort), poor quality relationship with mother and father (1958 cohort), and a range of negative relationship descriptors (1970 cohort) predicted reports of three or more illnesses or health problems in adulthood. Results were inconsistent with respect to one or two illnesses or health problems. Adjustment for sex, social class and poor mental health attenuated the odds of poor health, but measures of relationship quality retained a significant independent effect.
Conclusions: Poor quality parent-child relationships could be a remediable risk factor for poor health in adulthood.