Good moms important for healthy kids

PHOTO: Good moms important for healthy kids

It's no secret that kids from poverty-stricken homes are more likely to grow up into unhealthy adults as compared to their wealthier counterparts.

Children from lower income families often grow up to suffer from poor health in adulthood - from frequent colds to heart diseases. Much of research literature points to the stresses of a disadvantaged upbringing which affects their physiological development and permanently impairs their ability to fight infections and diseases.

However, a new study suggests that there is one thing that can buffer kids from the health ramifications of poverty - a nurturing and attentive mother.

The study, led by University of British Columbia psychologist Gregory Miller, analysed data from roughly 1,200 adults, with their childhood socioeconomic status inferred from their parents' educational attainments. The researchers then surveyed the participants to determine their level of parental attention.

Surprising findings

As expected, the wealthier the child's parents, the healthier the child as an adult.

Children with neither parent a high school graduate were 1.4 times more likely to develop metabolic syndrome.

This is a cluster of signs (such as high blood pressure, impaired regulation of blood sugar and fats, and abdominal fat) that often precedes chronic illnesses such as heart problems and diabetes.

However, children with nurturing mothers were a significant exception.

Rather than the long cited reason of upward mobility offsetting the health risks created by a childhood in poverty, the research findings suggest that early parental nurturance makes the crucial difference.

Researchers found that while income in later life had weak links to improved health in adulthood, "those greater risks later in life seem to be offset if the mom paid careful attention to the children's emotional well-being, had time for them and showed affection and caring," said Miller.

The paper, slated to be published in Psychological Science, suggested that reducing and managing stress factors throughout a child's life is the key differentiating factor.

Miller concluded that there is strong evidence that caretakers - not only mothers but grandparents, teachers and fathers as well - can help buffer vulnerable kids from a life of poor health.

Miller suggested that to raise healthy children, adults can teach their kids effective models of coping with stress, provide a good example of appropriate emotional responses and give them a sense of security that the world is generally a safe place.