Children who have parents in prison suffer more than those whose parents have divorced or even died, a new study suggests.
Researchers from the University of California, Irvine, found that children with incarcerated parents are more likely to develop health problems such as asthma, obesity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression and anxiety.
The study also found that such children were more likely to develop behavioural problems than those whose parents were not in prison.
Researchers collected and analysed data from the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health, using a representative sample of children aged 17 and under.
Kristin Turney, the author of the study and an assistant professor of sociology at UC Irvine, said the results suggested that health problems for children could be “an overlooked and unintended consequence of mass incarceration”.
Glen Elliott, a psychiatrist who works extensively with children in California, was sceptical of the study’s findings. He said that there were not necessarily “causal relationships” between the health problems of the children and the fact that their parents were in prison.
There have been several studies on the subject of how the wellbeing of children can be significantly affected by their parents’ lives. In June, a Norwegian study suggested that divorce could put children at a higher risk of obesity. The following month, a team of researchers in Australia suggested that children of same-sex couples were healthier than those with heterosexual parents.