A national study of more than 1700 people indicates that children who had positive family experiences such as being praised, having warm/caring parents, and having a sense of well-being during their childhood tend to have healthier physical activity habits as adults.
Conversely, children growing up with verbal tirades or physical punishment and parental conflict in the home tend to have worse outcomes in terms of adult physical activity habits.
“These associations between negative home life factors and negative physical activity behaviours have not been studied before but tend to mirror other studies associating troubled childhoods with poor adult health,” Dr Williams says.
“It seems family dysfunction and instability could lead to less favourable adult outcomes, whereas children who grow up in positive home environments may have healthier approaches to physical activity as adults.”
She says up to 70% of respondents reported being affected by at least one negative factor in childhood, and the association with poor adult outcomes increased as more negative factors came into play.
“This study examined associations between adult incidental, formal and leisure time activity and childhood risk factors to explore the impact of childhood experiences on adult behaviours.
“Results indicate the potential for childhood experiences to impact adult physical activity behaviours.
“These findings implicate the household environment (not just parental support of physical activity behaviours) in determining later activity patterns for individuals and highlight the role of family relations and family conflict in development of these patterns.
“Appreciation of these factors is fundamental to understanding behaviour trajectories and identifying key components for programs which promote healthy behaviours across a lifetime.”
Dr Williams, from CQUniversity’s Institute for Health and Social Science Research (IHSSR), says she is looking forward to further exploring these associations in a study later this year, and perhaps tapping into larger longitudinal health studies in the future.