Introduction: Mass incarceration is becoming one of this country's most detrimental public health problems. Children are particularly affected by this phenomenon, as parental incarceration is associated with a host of adverse outcomes, including children's engagement in health-risk behaviors that may negatively influence their mental and physical health. This study compares physical health indicators of youth with currently and formerly incarcerated parents with youth with no history of parental incarceration. Method: Using cross-sectional data from the 2016 Minnesota Student Survey (MSS), this secondary data analysis examined behavioral indicators of physical health among 8th, 9th, and 11th grade students (N = 119,029). Self-reported behavioral indicators of physical activity, fruit and vegetable consumption, fast food consumption, sugar-sweetened beverage consumption, and sleep were assessed. We also included a measure of perceived overall health. Logistic regression models controlling for demographic characteristics compared youth with currently and formerly incarcerated parents to youth with no history of parental incarceration. Results: As predicted, parental incarceration was significantly associated with lower levels of healthy behaviors and higher levels of unhealthy behaviors. Contrary to expectations, youth with currently incarcerated parents did not differ significantly from youth with formerly incarcerated parents. Discussion: Parental incarceration was associated with youth engagement in health risk behaviors, even if the parent was not currently incarcerated. These results suggest parental incarceration is associated with poor health behaviors that have implications for future health, and emphasizes the need for practitioners and policymakers to focus on interventions for this high-risk group of children and their families.
PubMed: MeSH publication types
- Journal Article