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Impact of Parental Mental Health and Poverty on the Health of the Next Generation: A Multi-Trajectory Analysis Using the UK Millennium Cohort Study

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Ruth McGovernORCiD, Professor Eileen KanerORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2023 Society for Adolescent Health and MedicinePurpose: Exposure to parental mental ill-health and poverty in childhood impact health across the lifecourse. Both maternal and paternal mental health may be important influences, but few studies have unpicked the complex interrelationships between these exposures and family poverty for later health. Methods: We used longitudinal data on 10,500 children from the nationally representative UK millennium cohort study. Trajectories of poverty, maternal mental health, and secondary caregiver mental health were constructed from child age of 9 months through to 14 years. We assessed the associations of these trajectories with mental health outcomes at the age of 17 years. Population-attributable fractions were calculated to quantify the contribution of caregivers' mental health problems and poverty to adverse outcomes at the country level. Results: We identified five distinct trajectories. Compared with children with low poverty and good parental mental health, those who experienced poverty and poor primary or secondary caregiver mental health (53%) had worse outcomes. Children exposed to both persistent poverty and poor caregiver mental health were at markedly increased risk of socioemotional behavioural problems (aOR 4.2; 95% CI 2.7–6.7), mental health problems (aOR 2.5; CI 1.6–3.9), and cognitive disability (aOR 1.7; CI 1.1–2.5). We estimate that 40% of socioemotional behavioural problems at the age of 17 were attributable to persistent parental caregivers' mental health problems and poverty. Discussion: More than half of children growing up in the UK are persistently exposed to either one or both of poor caregiver mental health and family poverty. The combination of these exposures is strongly associated with adverse health outcomes in the next generation.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Adjei NK, Schluter DK, Melis G, Straatmann VS, Fleming KM, Wickham S, Munford L, McGovern R, Howard LM, Kaner E, Wolfe I, Taylor-Robinson DC

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Adolescent Health

Year: 2023

Pages: epub ahead of print

Online publication date: 11/10/2023

Acceptance date: 28/07/2023

Date deposited: 26/10/2023

ISSN (print): 1054-139X

ISSN (electronic): 1879-1972

Publisher: Elsevier Inc.


DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2023.07.029


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Funder referenceFunder name
NIHR Applied Research Collaboration for the North East and North Cumbria
NIHR ARC South London
ORACLE: OveRcoming Adverse ChiLdhood Experiences
National Institute for Health Research
NIHR Senior Investigator award