The lifestyles of your parents can have a significant impact on your health

We have no control over our parents, jobs, or health. We don’t get to choose whether they smoke or what we eat as children. Our most recent study showed that these factors strongly influence our lifestyles and health into adulthood.

Our study involved 21,000 participants over 50 from 13 European countries. We compared their current smoking, obesity, and exercise habits with their parents’ jobs, as well as the longevity and alcohol problems they had during their childhoods.

Our study showed that the parents’ characteristics at ten years of age accounted for between 31% to 78% of adult health. The European average was 50%. Czech Republic (78%), Germany (72%), Spain (70%), France (66%), and Austria (64% were the countries where parents’ characteristics had a significant impact on health. Belgia (31%), the Netherlands (34%), and Switzerland (41%) had less impact on health than did parental factors.

Two mechanisms explain the importance of parents’ character for their children’s health. Poor living conditions in childhood can lead to poverty in adulthood, affecting one’s health. Health is also passed from parents to their children. Parents also influence their children’s health through their lifestyles and habits, apart from the obvious genetic inheritance.

Our research showed that children who had smoked as children were more likely to continue smoking in adulthood, all other than in Sweden. Obesity in later life is more common in those whose parents were smokers or had problems with alcohol when they were ten years old in Germany, Greece, and Austria. In Denmark, obesity was not associated with parents who had a problem with alcohol. It was more common in France, where it was related to smokers’ parents.

We also looked at the likelihood that a person will smoke. This was done using French national survey data based on parents’ smoking habits and their social backgrounds. When a person was 12 years old, their father smoked. This was after controlling for the parents’ education and job.

Smoking by mothers increased the likelihood that their daughters would smoke, but not their sons. People who had lived in poverty or their fathers were at greater risk of smoking.

Why it is important?

These findings should be a wake-up call to the NHS plans to prevent obese or smokers from having surgery unless they stop smoking or lose weight. This decision assumes that patients’ poor health is self-induced. Patients are forced to choose between accepting the consequences and making a change.

These public health policies do not consider that lifestyle can be strongly linked to circumstances beyond one’s control, including their childhood and parents’ lifestyles and health. It seems unfair to limit their access to treatment when they don’t have the same opportunities to live good health and adopt healthy lifestyles.

According to American economist, ensuring equality of opportunity is as simple as recognizing the true responsibility of individuals for their efforts, independent of external factors. This means that people are only responsible for their share of the income that isn’t tied to their childhood circumstances or their parents’ choices.

Our study showed that even if we don’t distinguish between responsibility and true responsibility, people have limited control over their health. Family and parent circumstances are more important in most European countries.

The campaign to encourage people to eat five servings of fruit and vegetables per day and experiments that offer shopping coupons for smoking cessation help people move towards healthier lifestyles. However, a ban on surgery or an imposed delay due to lifestyles can divide people into more deserving or less deserving patients.

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