Kids, Divorce & Health Issues

Aug 8, 2012 by

The have been some confusing headlines in the news lately concerning the topic of divorce and the results of a Canadian Health Survey study presented in New Orleans at a meeting of The Gerontological Society of America. Esme Fuller-Thomson, PhD, and a team of colleagues at the University of Toronto looked at data from over 13,000 Canadians in 2005 and found that children who experience a parental divorce in their childhood are over twice as likely to suffer a stroke at some point in their lives. The surprising results were detailed in Fuller-Thomson’s presentation titled, “Is There a Link Between Parental Divorce During Childhood and Stroke in Adulthood? Findings from a Population Based Survey.”

The headlines that followed Fuller-Thomson’s presentation became a bit sensational when the findings were taken out of context. The implication that children of divorce are doomed to be plagued with strokes later in life is not really what the data suggests. Instead, Fuller-Thomson stressed that children from divorced households are not destined to have strokes, and that divorce was just one factor identified among many others that might also increase the risk of stroke risk. The researchers noted that divorce by itself does not lead to a stroke and that many other factors could be involved that are related to divorce, but are not actually just divorce by itself. Fuller-Thomson was quoted in several publications as saying “I certainly don’t want this to be taken to mean that children from divorced households are condemned to have strokes,” and added that “We were very surprised that the association between parental divorce and stroke remained so strong even after we had adjusted for smoking, obesity, exercise and alcohol consumption.”         

The team studied 13,134 total respondents and found that of the 10.4 percent that had experienced a parental divorce during their childhood years, almost 2 percent reported that they had been diagnosed with a stroke at some point in their lives. The research left no stone unturned and examined a variety of other potential influential factors including socioeconomic background, educational levels, mental health history, childhood physical abuse history, long-term parental unemployment, smoking, drinking and diabetes history.
When the numbers were adjusted to account for age, race and gender differences, the risk of stroke was shown to be almost double or 2.2 times greater for the group of people who had experienced parental divorce. It also was noted that childhood stress was a possible linking factor as prior research has shown that the stress of poverty and abuse in childhood can throw the body’s regulation of the stress hormone cortisol out of balance and make people far more vulnerable to a number of different maladies as adults.

To be more accurate the news headlines might have pointed out that the research actually shows that there is only an association between divorce and stroke, and that divorce by itself does not cause strokes directly and just because your parents got a divorce does not mean you will have a stroke some day.


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