Parental incarceration increases cardiovascular risk in young adults

Sept. 18, 2023
Further research from this group will seek to explore connections between parental incarceration and other critical dimensions of public health, including social isolation and mental health outcomes such as suicidality.

Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of racial disparities in mortality between Black and white people in the United States. New research from the University of Chicago Medicine suggests that parental incarceration may be contributing to these health gaps.

According to the new study, people who experienced a parent or parental figure’s incarceration anytime before the age of 18 had higher levels of hypertension and coronary disease biomarkers than people whose parents were not incarcerated. These results indicate that mass incarceration may have transgenerational health consequences.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are difficult experiences that have been associated with long-term effects on physical and psychological health. The incarceration of a parental figure is an ACE that disproportionally affects marginalized communities, but its physical impacts have been understudied.

The researchers analyzed data from over 9,600 young adults between the ages of 33 and 44 in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) — a robust, nationally representative dataset. They found that a staggering 14.1% of all participants reported having been exposed to incarceration of a parent or parental figure during childhood. Tung notes that these figures reflect mass incarceration rates in the 1980s and 1990s, when study participants were less than 18 years old. These people were more likely than their peers to develop hypertension in adulthood, and they had higher levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP), a marker of inflammation that health experts use to estimate risk of future coronary events.

The researchers did not find a correlation between parental incarceration and other markers of cardiovascular risk they examined, such as diabetes, hyperlipidemia and heart disease.

University of Chicago Medical Center release on Newswise

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