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Parental absence in early childhood and onset of smoking and alcohol consumption before adolescence.

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Zilanawala, Afshin 
Webb, Elizabeth 
Abell, Jessica 
Bell, Steven 


BACKGROUND: Parental absence, due to death or separation from a parent, has been associated with smoking and alcohol consumption in adolescence and adulthood. The aim of this study was to investigate whether parental absence in early childhood was associated with smoking and alcohol uptake before adolescence. METHODS: Data on 10 940 children from the UK's Millennium Cohort Study were used. Logistic regression was used to test associations between parental absence (0-7 years) and reports of smoking and alcohol consumption at age 11. RESULTS: Children who experienced parental absence were more likely to have smoked (OR=2.58, 95% CI 1.88 to 3.56) and consumed alcohol (OR=1.46, 95% CI 1.25 to 1.72). No differences were found by child sex or age, or parent absent. Children who experienced parental death were less likely to have drunk alcohol but those who had were more likely to have consumed enough to feel drunk. CONCLUSIONS: Parental absence was associated with early uptake of risky health behaviours in a large, nationally representative UK cohort. Children who experience parental absence should be supported in early life in order to prevent smoking and alcohol initiation.



alcohol, child adversity, millennium cohort study, smoking, Age Factors, Child, Cohort Studies, Divorce, Female, Health Behavior, Humans, Male, Parent-Child Relations, Parental Death, Risk Factors, Sex Factors, Smoking, Underage Drinking, United Kingdom

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Arch Dis Child

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Medical Research Council (MR/M006638/1)
European Research Council [Grant IDs: ERC-2011- StG_20101124, ERC-StG-2012-309337_Alcohol-Lifecourse], Economic and Social Research Council International Centre for Lifecourse Studies in Society and Health (ICLS) [Grant ID: ES/J019119/1], Medical Research Council/Alcohol Research UK [Grant ID: MR/M006638/1]