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The role of poverty in explaining health variations in 7-year-old children from different family structures: findings from the UK Millennium Cohort Study


Background Despite rises in reconstituted and lone-parent families, relatively little is known about how the health of children in different family types varies, and the extent to which any differences might be explained by poverty. The authors examined this using cross-sectional data on 13 681 seven-year-olds from the Millennium Cohort Study.

Methods The authors estimated RRs and 95% CIs for having poor physical (general health, long-standing illness, injury, overweight, asthma, fits) and mental health (using strengths and difficulties scores) according to family structure using Poisson regression. The authors adjusted for confounders (aRR) and then investigated the role of poverty as a mediator by entering a poverty score (based on income, receipt of benefits, subjective poverty and material deprivation) into the main model.

Results Children living in reconstituted and lone-parent families were at a slight increased risk of poor health compared with those living with two natural parents. Adjusting for poverty tended to remove the elevated risk of poor physical health in children living in lone-parent and reconstituted families. However, for the mental health outcomes, poverty tended to remove the elevated risk for lone parents but not for reconstituted families. For example, the aRR for borderline–abnormal total difficulties fell from 1.45 (1.22 to 1.72) to 1.34 (1.13 to 1.59) in children living in reconstituted families and from 1.29 (1.14 to 1.45) to 1.05 (0.92 to 1.19) in those living with lone parents.

Conclusions Poor physical and mental health was slightly more prevalent in children living in lone-parent or reconstituted families. Poverty reduction may help to reduce these differences, especially for children living with lone parents; however, alternative mechanisms should be also explored, particularly for children living in reconstituted families.

  • Child health
  • inequalities
  • poverty
  • policy

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