Contrary to current thinking, children of older mothers do not appear to be at increased risk of diseases later in life, according to a new study.
The results show people born to women 35 to 44 years old were no less healthy in their 40s and 50s than those whose mothers were 25 to 34 when giving birth.
In fact, the study found those born to younger mothers ― ages 20-24 ―were at a greater risk of diseases than those born to women ages 25-34.
The biggest factors that the research linked to the eventual health of children were the mother's education level and the number of years she lived after giving birth to them.
While it is still true that higher maternal age brings a greater risk of miscarriage and conditions such as Trisomy 21, "with respect to adult age, early births appear to be more dangerous for children than late ones," said study researcher Mikko Myrskylä of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany. [See Best Age to Raise Kids? Older Parents Say 30s.]
Myrskylä and colleagues analyzed information from 18,000 U.S. children and their mothers.
On first look, children born to mothers over 35 did appear less healthy as adults than those born to 25- to 34-year-old moms. Over the 10-year study, the children of older moms were more likely to be obese or die. They also rated their overall health as lower, on average.
However, after the researchers took into account the mother’s education and date of death, people born to moms older than 35 were no more likely to be unhealthy than those of 25- to 34-year-old moms. In other words, the negative effect of advanced maternal age vanished, the researchers said.
However, people born to women ages 20-24 suffered from 5 percent more diseases than those born to mothers ages 25-34, the researchers said. The value is even higher — approximately 15 percent — for those born to mothers ages 14-19.
The finding that a mom's date of death has a bearing on her children's health could be due to the psychological effects of losing a mother, the researchers said. With increasing life expectancy, the risk of losing a mother at a young age most probably is no longer critical for most children born today, the researchers said.
The study was published online Aug. 28 in the journal Demography.