Aims Financial strain (FS) describes an imbalance between resources and need. FS can be experienced by both the rich and poor. There is a growing body of research associating FS with poor health, but most has been cross-sectional and adult focused. The ‘Great Recession’ is a time when many households in the UK experienced increased FS and families with children were disproportionately affected. The primary aim of this study was to determine if increases in household FS, over the period of the ‘Great Recession’, were associated with poor child health outcomes.
Methods We examined data from the Millennium Cohort Study, a longitudinal study of children born in the UK between 2000–2002. Surveys carried out at age 7 yrs (T1) and 11 yrs (T2) spanned the ‘Great Recession’ (2007–12). At age 11 yrs 13,112 participants took part.
Three different measures of increased FS were defined. “Became income poor”; dropped below the ‘poverty line’ between ages 7 yrs and 11 yrs. “Developed difficulty managing”; parental report of being ‘financially comfortable’ at 7 yrs and finding it ‘difficult to manage’ at 11 yrs. “Felt worse off”; Parental report of feeling financially worse off at age 11 yrs, compared to 7 yrs. Poisson regression was used to estimate risk ratios and 95% confidence intervals for poor health outcomes (overweight/obesity, problematic behaviour, general health score, long-standing illness and bedwetting), according to the three measures of FS. In a sub-analysis the sample was limited to households which were non-income poor at T2 (household income >60% median).
Results Increased FS, between 7 and 11 yrs, was associated with a significantly increased risk of every poor health outcome examined in children, at age 11 yrs (see Table 1). There was marked consistency across all three measures in predicting poor health outcomes. In the sub-analysis, of non-income poor households, the increased risk of poor health outcomes persisted [data not shown].
Conclusion Increased FS has strong and consistent associations with poor health among children. Consequently, measures which reduce FS may also improve children’s health and wellbeing. During times of widespread economic hardship, such as the ‘Great Recession’, measures should be taken to buffer children and their families from the impact of FS. This may include ‘ring-fencing’ specific welfare or public services. The results also emphasise that the effects of FS are not limited to the income-poor.
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