Although sometimes stressful, moving to a new house can be an exciting time. It presents an opportunity to start anew and clear out the clutter that has been accumulating over the last several years. But a new study sheds light on an unexpected downside to moving houses for kids: it could affect their health and well-being into adulthood.

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Moving houses during childhood can impact on health and well-being into middle age, the new study suggests.

The research was led by Dr. Roger T. Webb, Ph.D., from the Centre for Mental Health and Safety at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom.

He and his colleagues publish their findings in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, with serious implications for child, adolescent, and adult mental health services.

They conducted a long-term study of Danish children born from 1971-1997 who were followed into adulthood. Every residential move from birth to the age of 14 years was included in the dataset.

Additionally, every move was connected with the age of each child so that the researchers could compare the impact of moves in early life with moves during adolescence.

“Denmark is the only country where it is currently possible to conduct such a comprehensive national investigation of childhood residential mobility and risk of adverse outcomes in later life,” says Dr. Webb.

He points to the country’s “uniquely complete and accurate registration of all residential changes in its population.”

Because there were several comprehensive national registries available to them, the researchers were also able to measure subsequent adverse events in adulthood, which includes attempted suicide, violent behavior, psychiatric illness, substance misuse, and both natural and unnatural deaths.

With this data, the researchers grouped the risk of adverse outcomes due to moving houses in childhood into three categories:

  • Self-directed and interpersonal violence, including attempted suicide, violent criminality
  • Mental illness and substance misuse, including any psychiatric diagnosis
  • Premature mortality, including natural and unnatural deaths.

In total, 37 percent of the people studied moved across a municipal boundary on at least one occasion before the age of 15, and multiple relocations occurred most frequently during infancy.

Overall, the researchers found that the highest risks were among those people who frequently moved during the early adolescence period, which is 12-14 years of age.

Furthermore, each additional move was linked with an incremental risk increase. For example, the risk increased with multiple moves at any age, compared with a single move, and multiple relocations in a single year brought on a sharper spike for violent offending risk.

Interestingly, the risk of attempted suicide grew with increasing age at the time of moving; it increased particularly if multiple moves each year happened during early adolescence.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the third leading cause of death for youths in the United States, resulting in approximately 4,600 lost lives each year.

As such, the researchers say that “heightened vigilance is indicated for relocated adolescents and their families, with a view to preventing longer-term adverse outcomes in this population.”

The researchers also looked at socioeconomic status (SES) of the families. When both parents scored low in at least one of three areas – income, educational attainment level, and employment status – the family was categorized as having a low SES.

Meanwhile, if both parents were employed and had a high score in income or education, the family had a high SES. All other combinations constituted middle SES.

Initially, the researchers hypothesized that adverse outcomes would be more likely in households with lower SES, but this was not the case. Elevated risk due to moving houses was linked to all families equally.

The researchers conclude that house moves in childhood are linked with multiple long-term adverse outcomes.

”Although frequent residential mobility could be a marker for familial psychosocial difficulties, the elevated risks were observed across the socioeconomic spectrum, and mobility may be intrinsically harmful. Health and social services, schools, and other public agencies should be vigilant of the psychological needs of relocated adolescents, including those from affluent as well as deprived families.”

Dr. Roger T. Webb

Read about how suicide rates are on the rise in the U.S.