09:39pm Monday 06 April 2020

Frequent house moves in childhood might be bad for long-term health

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, followed 850 individuals over a 20-year period to investigate the association between moving house from birth to age 18 on a broad range of outcomes in adulthood. The researchers looked at links to physical health, psychological distress, and health behaviours including smoking, heavy drinking and illegal drug use.

At age 18, almost two-thirds of participants had moved house once or twice while one in five had moved at least three times. Those who moved at least once were at an increased risk of reduced overall health. The most frequent movers (three moves or more) were twice as likely to have used illegal drugs and nearly three times as likely to have had suicidal thoughts than those who stayed in the same house. However, some of these negative health outcomes were reduced by the time the participants reached age 36.

Lead author Dr Denise Brown, from the MRC/Chief Scientist Office Social and Public Health Sciences Unit (SPHSU) in Glasgow, said:

“For many people, moving house is a positive experience as it may lead to improved family circumstances. But for some family members, especially children, moving can be stressful and may lead to poor health outcomes and behaviours in adulthood.

“The negative effect on health in adulthood appears to be somewhat accounted for by a high number of school moves. This suggests that support should be given to children during a family relocation to ensure that important social ties and relationships with healthcare professionals are not broken.”

Studies in the US and other countries have demonstrated a relationship between frequent residential moves in childhood and poorer health status, but this relationship has rarely been examined in the UK.

The research was conducted using data collected from the West of Scotland Twenty-07 Study, a large population study designed to investigate the influence of social and economic factors on health. While the scientists acknowledge that levels of childhood mobility may vary between different regions, there is no reason to believe that this effect on long-term health would not be replicated across the UK.

Scientists looked at the number of addresses individuals had lived at between birth and age 18, and compared this with a range of different health measurements in late adolescence (age 18) and adulthood (age 36). They looked at physical health measures such as weight and blood pressure, alongside self-reported information about health and behaviour collected via questionnaires.

Professor Dame Sally Macintyre, Director of the SPHSU, said:

“Moving house is a fairly common experience in childhood, but very little is known about the long-term impact this disruption can have on overall health and wellbeing. Long-range population based studies like Twenty-07 are so important because they allow scientists to investigate how changes in people’s circumstances affect their overall health over the course of their life.”

The research was carried out by the SPHSU in Glasgow, the University of Stirling and Queen’s University, Belfast. It was funded by the Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government Health Directorates and the MRC.

Notes to editors

Contact Hannah Isom

Senior press officer, Medical Research Council

T: 0207 395 2345 (out of hours: 07818 428 297)

E: [email protected]

  • 1. The article Childhood residential mobility and health in late adolescence and adulthood: Findings from the West of Scotland Twenty-07 Study by D Brown, M Benzeval, V Gayle, S Macintyre, D O’Reilly and AH Leyland is published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
  • 2. For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council has improved the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research. The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs, including one of the first antibiotics penicillin, the structure of DNA and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of the 21st century. www.mrc.ac.uk
  • 3. Chief Scientist Office (CSO), part of the Scottish Government Health Directorates, supports and promotes high quality research aimed at improving the quality and cost-effectiveness of services offered by NHS Scotland and securing lasting improvements to the health of the people of Scotland. CSO supports research initiated by the research community in Scotland and advises the Scottish Government on how research contributes to improvements in health and healthcare. CSO’s research strategy “Investing in Research: Improving Health” sets out our aims for the next 5 years and features changes to give greater emphasis to funding experimental and translational medicine research and health services and health population research. We also aim to deliver value for money through partnerships with other funding agencies and to foster Scotland-wide working.

  • Share on:

    MORE FROM Child health

    Health news