Generational lifestyles: New research shows parents’ lifestyles determine children’s health – even as adults

It looks like our parents influence more than the color of our eyes or other features. According to a study, our parents’ lifestyles can affect our health as adults.

While we can’t control if our parents smoke or eat healthily, these factors can significantly affect “our own lifestyles and health, even into adulthood.” Sandy Tubeuf, Associate Professor in Health Economics at the University of Leeds, took part in a study that observed at least 21,000 participants aged 50 and above from 13 European countries.

The researchers looked into the  participants’ habits and state of health (smoking, lack of exercise and obesity) in relation to their parents’ jobs, longevity and bad habits (smoking and drinking) when the participants were younger. Based on the results, the parents’ characteristics when participants were ten years old affected at least 31 percent to 78 percent of their adult health, while the European average was at 50 percent. (Related: Clean Eating 101: Simple Rules To Live A Healthy And Clean Lifestyle.)

The results of the study reveal that health was largely determined by parents’ characteristics in the following countries:

  • Czech Republic (78 percent)
  • Germany (72 percent)
  • Spain (70 percent)
  • France (66 percent)
  • Austria (64 percent)

Meanwhile, parental factors mattered less in Belgium (31 percent), the Netherlands (34 percent) and Switzerland (41 percent).

The relevance of parents’ characteristics to their children’s health is due to two mechanisms. First, poor living conditions in childhood could mean poverty in adulthood, which affects health. Second, health is transmitted from parents to children.

Aside from the obvious common genetic inheritance from generation to generation, parents’ health also affects their children’s health, especially when they impart habits and lifestyles. For example (controlling for education level and parents’ job), if a person’s father smoked when they were 12, they are at least twice as likely to smoke compared to those who had fathers that did not smoke at all. If mothers smoked, there was a bigger chance that their daughters would start smoking. However, this is not the case when it comes to their sons. The risk that a person would smoke was also higher among those whose father was a manual worker, and who had experienced periods of poverty during their childhood.

Tubeuf shared to Daily Mail: “According to the American economist, John Roemer, a way to ensure equality of opportunities is to respect the true responsibility of people for their efforts independent of factors beyond their control. In other words, people would only be responsible for the share that isn’t linked to their childhood conditions or their parents’ choices.”

Tips on how to live a healthy lifestyle

While there’s nothing we can do about our parent’s smoking and drinking habits or their diet, we are in full control of our own lifestyle. Try the tips listed below to stay healthy as you grow older:

  • Exercise regularly to stay in shape.
  • Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables to maintain a healthy weight. Limit your intake of fast foods and processed foods, and eat more whole grains, lean protein, and low- or nonfat dairy products.
  • Portion your food, and try to chew slowly.
  • Do not smoke or use tobacco products.
  • Avoid illegal substances and drink alcohol in moderation if you can’t give it up completely.
  • Get enough sleep. Adults need at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Various studies have confirmed that a proper amount of sleep, no matter what your age, is important to maintain good health.
  • Practice good hygiene. Shower or bathe daily, brush and floss your teeth twice a day, and always wash your hands to prevent illnesses.

You can learn more about how to get in shape and how to eat healthier at

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