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Childhood Adversity Tied to Long-Term Relationship and Health Issues

Update Date: Feb 27, 2014 02:48 PM EST

The environment plays a huge factor in how young children and teenagers develop both physically and mentally. In a new study, researchers examined the relationship between childhood adversity and physical health issues in black and white men. The researchers reported that dealing with childhood adversity appeared to affect black men's relationships and health.

"Our findings suggest that childhood adversity launches a lifelong process of relationship and health disadvantage for black men," said lead author Debra Umberson, a professor of sociology and a faculty associate in the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. "I was surprised at the power of childhood adversity to influence racial disparities in health for men via its detrimental impact on adult relationships."

For this study, the researchers examined data on black and white people aged 25 and older. During the time span of 15 years, the participants were interviewed four times regarding childhood adversity. The researchers used factors such as family economic hardships, parental marital problems, violence, and adulthood stress caused by jobs, relationships, finances and deaths of loved ones. The researchers also asked about the participant's quality of relationships and physical health during adulthood.

The researchers discovered that black men were exposed to childhood adversity 28 percent more often than white men. Black men also tended to have poorer physical health and reported more relationship problems than white men. For black women, the effects of childhood adversity were not as extreme. Overall, black men and women had more health and relationship issues than white men and women.

"This pathway from childhood adversity to lower quality relationships in adulthood explains part of the race disparity in health among men, something that has not been recognized in previous research," Umberson said.

She added, according to Medical Xpress, "I was surprised that childhood adversity had such a minor impact on black women's health in adulthood, especially since the effect was so strong for black men. I think this is best explained by women's tendency to seek out social contact in response to stress. Generally speaking, women tend to have more close relationships and to share their feelings with others. This is true for black and white women. Supportive relationships protect health."

The study was published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

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