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Good Moms Seem to Help Poor Kids Become Healthy Adults

SATURDAY, Sept. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Poor children are more likely to become unhealthy adults -- vulnerable to infection and disease -- than kids from higher-income families, according to a new study.

However, the study findings revealed, some disadvantaged children grow up into healthy adults. Their secret: a nurturing and attentive mother.

Upward mobility also has been cited as a reason that children from low-income families become healthy adults, the study pointed out. Yet the researchers found that income in adulthood didn't offset childhood poverty.

"But those greater risks later in life seem to be offset if the mom paid careful attention to the children's emotional well-being, had time for them and showed affection and caring," Gregory Miller, lead study author and psychologist at the University of British Columbia in Canada, said in a news release from the Association for Psychological Science.

For the study, clinicians performed physical examinations on roughly 1,200 adults and researchers rated their socioeconomic status based on level of education. The investigators also surveyed the participants to determine how well their parents nurtured them as children.

The study, scheduled for publication in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, found that the more wealth a child's family had, the better the individual's health was in adulthood.

Children whose parents did not graduate from high school were 1.4 times more likely to develop the metabolic syndrome (a set of risk factors linked to heart disease, diabetes and other health problems) than those raised by college graduates. But children with nurturing mothers were the exception.

The authors suggest that reducing and managing stress throughout childhood and later in life is what makes the difference.

"There is a lot of evidence that nurturant moms" -- or possibly other adults -- "can help buffer vulnerable kids from all sorts of negative outcomes," Miller stated in the news release.

Previous research has found that stress endured by disadvantaged children permanently affects their physiological development, making them more vulnerable to disease, the study authors noted in the news release. These children are more likely to have a cluster of symptoms -- including high blood pressure and abdominal fat -- that put them at risk for the metabolic syndrome.

Miller concluded that parents can help their children become healthy adults by teaching them how to cope with stress effectively and by being a good example of appropriate emotional responses.

"We can do lots to help kids get through tough times," Miller said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has more about child poverty.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Association for Psychological Science, news release, Sept. 19, 2011

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