WASHINGTON, July 22 (Xinhua) -- People who lost either a mother or a father during childhood have a greater risk of mortality in the years following the parent's death, according to a study published Tuesday in the U.S. journal PLOS Medicine.
The study, conducted by Jiong Li and colleagues from Aarhus University in Denmark, were based on data from national registries from all children born in Denmark from 1968 to 2008 and in Sweden from 1973 to 2006, and 89 percent of children born in Finland from 1987 to 2006.
Of these children, 2.6 percent, or 189,094 people, lost a parent when the child was between six months and 18 years old. A total of 39,683 individuals died over the follow-up period, which ranged from 1 to 40 years.
The researchers found that those exposed to parental death had a 50 percent greater risk of mortality during the study period than those unexposed to parental death.
This increased risk of mortality persisted into early adulthood irrespective of child age at parental death, they said.
A greater risk of mortality was found among children whose parent died from unnatural causes compared with natural causes, or 84 percent versus 33 percent increase in risk of mortality, respectively. The risk was greatest for children who lost a parent due to suicide.
Because the study was undertaken in high-income countries, these findings are unlikely to be the result of a lack of material or healthcare needs, the researchers said.
Rather, the increased mortality among the exposed children likely reflects both genetic susceptibility and the long-term impacts of parental death on health and social well-being.
"Parental death in childhood was associated with a long-lasting increased mortality risk from both external causes and diseases, regardless of child's age at bereavement, sex of the child, sex of the deceased parent, cause of parental death, as well as population characteristics like socioeconomic background," the researchers said.
"The findings warrant the need for health and social support to the bereaved children and such support may need to cover an extended time period," they added.