University of Oulu

Kinnunen, L., Nordström, T., Niemelä, M. et al. Parental Physical Illnesses and Their Association with Subsequent Externalizing and Internalizing Symptoms in Children. J Child Fam Stud 30, 2677–2689 (2021).

Parental physical illnesses and their association with subsequent externalizing and internalizing symptoms in children

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Author: Kinnunen, Lotta1,2; Nordström, Tanja1,2; Niemelä, Mika3;
Organizations: 1Center for Life Course Health Research, University of Oulu, P.O.Box 5000, Oulu, 90014, Finland
2Medical Research Center Oulu, Oulu University Hospital and University of Oulu, Medical Faculty, University of Oulu, P.O.Box 5000, Oulu, 90014, Finland
3Department of Psychiatry, Oulu University Hospital, University of Oulu, P.O.Box 5000, Oulu, 90014, Finland
4Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Center, University of Melbourne, Level 3, Alan Gilbert Building, 161 Barry Street, Carlton, Victoria, 3053, Australia
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.7 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2021
Publish Date: 2021-12-03


Parental physical illnesses can be stressful for children. We estimated the prevalence of children who experience parental physical illnesses, and whether parental physical illnesses during childhood were associated with behavioral problems in adolescence. Data on children from the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1986 was collected through questionnaires at ages 8 and 16 (n = 7037). Data on parental illness diagnosed during this study period was obtained from health registers. We investigated the association between parental physical illness (based on the International Classification of Diseases) and children’s behavioral problems at age 16 (measured by the Youth Self-Report questionnaire). During the study period, 3887 (55.2%) children had a parent with at least one physical illness. Associations were found between parental physical illness and children’s behavioral problems, with most associations found between maternal illness and males’ externalizing problems, and females’ internalizing problems. After adjusting for child behavioral problems at age 8, parental psychiatric illness and socioeconomic status, and multiple testing correction, only associations between parental physical illness and male behavioral problems were significant. Interestingly, parental illness was associated with lower problems. A notable proportion of children experience parental physical illnesses. Although mixed, our findings suggest that the impact of parental physical illness on children’s behavioral problems is complex, and that the experience of parental illness may lead to resilience in males. This study emphasizes that children’s needs should be taken into account when treating a parent with physical illness.

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Series: Journal of child and family studies
ISSN: 1062-1024
ISSN-E: 1573-2843
ISSN-L: 1062-1024
Volume: 30
Issue: 11
Pages: 2677 - 2689
DOI: 10.1007/s10826-021-02079-y
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 3124 Neurology and psychiatry
3123 Gynaecology and paediatrics
Funding: The NFBC study is funded by EU QLG1-CT-2000-01643 (EUROBLCS) (grant number E51560), NorFA (grant number 731, 20056, 30167), USA / NIH 2000 G DF682 (grant number 50945). This study was supported by the Academy of Finland (J.M., grant numbers 268336, 288960); Finnish Cultural Foundation (L.K., grant number 00160427); Juho Vainio Foundation (L.K., grant number 201610329): The University of Oulu Scholarship Foundation (L.K., grant number 20180212), Olvi-Säätiö (L.K.), Niilo Helanderin Säätiö (L.K.) and Lastentautien tutkimussäätiö (L.K.) and the National Health and Medical Research Foundation (S.W., grant number 1007716). Open access funding provided by University of Oulu including Oulu University Hospital.
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 268336
Detailed Information: 268336 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
Copyright information: © The Author(s) 2021. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit