Parental Incarceration During Childhood Is Associated With Adult-Onset Hypertension

By Rebecca Araujo - September 11, 2023

Adults in the US who had an incarcerated parent during childhood have a greater incidence of cardiovascular risk factors than those who did not have an incarcerated parent, according to a study published in JAMA Cardiology.

The cohort study sought to identify the relationship between parental incarceration during childhood and the incidence of adult-onset cardiovascular risk among adults in the US. Population-based data were collected on individuals who participated in the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health from 2008-2009 (wave V) and 2016-2018 (wave VI).

The assessed cardiovascular outcomes included self-reported diagnoses of obesity, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, diabetes, or heart disease, along with serum elevations in non-high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (≥160 mg/dL) and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein ([hsCRP] >3 mg/L).

The analysis included 9629 adults transitioning from young adulthood to adulthood. Around half of the participants were female (50.3%) and 71.4% were White. The mean age was 37.8 years in wave V participants and 28.9 years in wave VI.

Participants with childhood exposure to parental incarceration were more likely to be Black than those who did not experience parental incarceration (22.5% vs 13.6%). These participants also tended to have lower educational attainment, with 8.2% completing less than a high school education compared with 4.2% among those who did not have an incarcerated parent during childhood. Parental incarceration was also associated with higher rates of public insurance (20.6% vs 11.0%, respectively).

Experiencing childhood parental incarceration was associated with 33% higher adjusted odds for developing hypertension during adulthood (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.05–1.68) and 60% higher adjusted odds of developing elevated hsCRP (95% CI, 1.03–2.48). Parental incarceration was not associated with an increased incidence of any other cardiovascular diagnoses or serum lipid levels analyzed.

“In this cohort study of US adults transitioning from young adulthood to adulthood, an increased incidence of hypertension and high-risk hsCRP, but not other cardiovascular risk factors, was observed among those exposed to parental incarceration during childhood,” the authors summarized. “These findings suggest possible transgenerational health consequences of mass incarceration.”

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