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Study: Parents' messy divorce affects adult children's health

A recent study by Carnegie Mellon University indicates that the outcome of a divorce can affect children physically even decades later. If an adult child's parents ended up not speaking to one another after divorce or separation, the study found, the adult child was more likely than other adults to catch the common cold. If their parents remained in contact after the divorce, however, there was no additional risk of catching a cold.

"There's good evidence that stressful life experiences, especially when they're persistent over a long period of time, can do things to our physiology that increase risk of future illness," the study's co-author told Newsweek. "And there's also a number of sort of adverse childhood experiences that can sort of affect our immune systems and future disease risks."

For the study, which appeared in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers divided 201 adult participants into three groups. The first group constituted those whose parents never divorced. The second group was made up of those whose parents divorced but remained on speaking terms. The third group comprised those whose parents no longer talked to one another after divorcing during the participants' childhood.

The participants, who were otherwise healthy, were given nasal drops that contained rhinovirus 39, a version of the common cold. They were then monitored for five days to see if they developed any symptoms.

The participants whose parents had not remained in contact after divorce were over three times more likely to develop a cold after being exposed to the virus, according to researchers. Interestingly, the participants whose parents kept in touch after divorce were no more likely to catch the virus than those whose parents had remained together throughout childhood.

The study's other co-author commented that "all divorces are not created equal" when it comes to children's long-term health prospects. Furthermore, continued communication between parents buffering deleterious effects of separation on the health care trajectories of the children."

There are likely a wide variety of factors that will affect your children's health in the long term, but the study's conclusions are interesting. They suggest that positive co-parenting may be much more important to children's wellbeing than many people realize.

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