Childhood Parental Incarceration and Adult-Onset Hypertension and Cardiovascular Risk

JAMA Cardiol. 2023 Oct 1;8(10):927-935. doi: 10.1001/jamacardio.2023.2672.

Abstract

Importance: Parental incarceration is an adverse childhood experience that disproportionately affects racially minoritized individuals and has been associated with long-term health risks. Although cardiovascular disease remains the primary cause of mortality differences between Black and White individuals in the US, the association between parental incarceration and cardiovascular risk remains poorly understood.

Objective: To examine the association between parental incarceration during childhood and incident cardiovascular risk in adulthood.

Design, setting, and participants: This population-based cohort study included data from waves IV (2008-2009) and V (2016-2018) of the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. Participants represented US adults transitioning from young adulthood to adulthood. Data were analyzed from October 28, 2021, to May 1, 2023.

Main outcomes and measures: Parental incarceration was defined as a parent or parent-like figure going to jail or prison when participants were aged younger than 18 years. Outcome measures included self-reported diagnoses of obesity, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, diabetes, or heart disease as well as serum elevations in non-high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (≥160 mg/dL) and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP >3 mg/L), a marker of inflammation used to estimate risk of future coronary events. Using sampling weights, incident development of each outcome was modeled as a function of parental incarceration, adjusting for participant- and neighborhood-level characteristics.

Results: This study included 9629 participants representing 16 077 108 US adults. Approximately half of participants were women (5498 [weighted 50.3%]) and the majority (5895 [weighted 71.4%]) were White. The mean participant age was 37.8 years (95% CI, 37.5 to 38.0 years) in wave V compared with 28.9 years (95% CI, 28.6 to 29.1 years) in wave IV. In wave V, those with childhood exposure to parental incarceration had lower educational attainment (91 [weighted 8.2%] vs 245 [weighted 4.2%] completing less than high school), had higher rates of public insurance (257 [weighted 20.6%] vs 806 [weighted 11.0%]), and were disproportionately Black (374 [weighted 22.5%] vs 1488 [weighted 13.6%]). Parental incarceration was associated with 33% higher adjusted odds (95% CI, 1.05 to 1.68) of developing hypertension and 60% higher adjusted odds (95% CI, 1.03 to 2.48) of developing elevated hsCRP. Associations between childhood parental incarceration and other diagnoses (ie, obesity, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, or heart disease) and serum lipid levels were not observed.

Conclusions and relevance: In this cohort study of US adults transitioning from young adulthood to adulthood, an increased incidence of hypertension and high-risk hsCRP, but not other cardiovascular risk factors, was observed among those exposed to parental incarceration during childhood. These findings suggest possible transgenerational health consequences of mass incarceration.

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