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Divorced parents linked to higher risk of stroke

December 01, 2010|By Melissa Healy | Los Angeles Times

If you're an adult shuttling this holiday between the homes of divorced parents -- or just remembering that hectic obligation from earlier days -- here's some news about as welcome as spoiled eggnog: Your parents' breakup all those years ago may mean you are at higher risk of stroke.

Among 13,000 participants in the 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey, respondents who said their parents had divorced when they were young were 2.2 times as likely as those who grew up in intact families to report they had suffered a stroke at some point in their lives. In this sample, about one in 10 respondents was the adult child of parents who divorced before they were 18 while they lived at home.

The study was presented recently in New Orleans, at the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America. The research was conducted by University of Toronto professor of social work Esme Fuller-Thomson and colleagues Angela Dalton and Ruksha Mehta.

Even after adjusting for education, gender, income, mental health diagnoses and diabetes, the link between divorced parents and stroke held firm, Fuller Thomson reported. Adult socioeconomic status, health behaviors or illness did not seem to account for the higher rates of stroke among the children of divorced parents, said Fuller Thomson, who said she was "surprised" by the strength of the finding.

It's hard to know what this surprising link is capturing. Higher stroke rates may reflect the downstream effects of divorce's emotional toll, or the economic fallout from a parental split. Fuller Thomson said it may also be a relic of an era in which divorce was far less common, and circumstances leading to it might have been more extreme than is now the case. Its rarity also made divorce more a source of stigma and shame than is the case nowadays.

Other research on divorce's effects has found that when parents split, the risk to a child's later mental health increase. Researchers found that the effect was greatest when, at 16, a child of divorcing parents also suffered poor school performance, greater financial hardship and emotional problems resulting from the breakup.

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