A chaotic home life may be associated with poorer health for young children, a new study suggests.
Researchers from The Ohio State University found that 3-year-olds with messy and dirty homes, ever-present TV noise, parents with inflexible work schedules, and crowding (where more than one person is in a room) were more likely to have poor health at age 5.
The study, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, was based on data from 3,288 mothers -- most of whom were unmarried and low-income -- who were interviewed when their children were 3, and then again when they were 5.
While many of the mothers in the study were of low income, study researcher Claire Kamp Dush noted that she didn't think the findings would be much different for families of middle income, though "most middle-class families can avoid the same level of chaos that we saw in the most impoverished families," she said. "We're not talking about the chaos of your kids being overinvolved in activities and the parents having to run them from one place to another. This harmful chaos is much more fundamental."
The researchers were quick to note that the findings should not be taken to mean that it's parents' faults their kids are unhealthy because of circumstances outside of their control.
"We're not blaming the victims here -- there is a larger system involved," Kamp Dush, an assistant professor of human sciences at the university, said in a statement. "These mothers can't help it that their jobs don't give them the flexibility to deal with sick kids. They can’t afford a larger house or apartment to deal with overcrowding. With their work schedules, they often don’t have time to keep a clean home and they don't have the money to spend on organizational systems or cleaning services used by middle-class families to keep their homes in order."
Indeed, studies have suggested that flexible work is actually healthy. For instance, a 2010 Cochrane review of studies showed that the ability to self-schedule work time (meaning a person can choose when he or she is able to work) is linked with better mental health, improved sleep, lower blood pressure and decreased exhaustion.
"Flexible working seems to be more beneficial for health and wellbeing where the individuals control their own work patterns, rather than where employers are in control," review author Clare Bambra, of the Wolfson Research Institute at Durham University, said in a statement. "Given the limited evidence base, we wouldn't want to make any hard and fast recommendations, but these findings certainly give employers and employees something to think about."