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
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