Inuit kids with teenage mothers suffer more ear infections, dental woes: StatsCan
"Less likely to be rated as being in excellent, very good health"
Inuit children aged two to five years who have teenaged mothers are less mentally and physically well than those born to older mothers, suggests a Statistics Canada study released Nov. 21, which looked at 774 Inuit children across Canada.
Based on the results of the 2006 Aboriginal Children’s Survey, the study compared physical health and behavioural outcomes for two- to five-year-old Inuit children of teenagers, who began childbearing at ages 12 to 19, and older mothers who began childbearing at age 25 or older.
The study found Inuit children of teenage mothers:
• are “less likely to be rated as being in excellent/very good health,” compared with Inuit children whose mothers had first given birth at age 25 or older;
• score higher for emotional symptoms and inattention or hyperactivity than Inuit children of older mothers; and,
• “more likely to have had an ear infection and dental problems.”
The increased levels of ear infections and dental problems among the young Inuit children of teenagers are a concern, the study notes.
That’s because ear infections have been associated with hearing loss and speech and language problems, while dental problems have been associated with pain, infection, and behaviour problems.
The study also found that Inuit children with teenage mothers are:
• more likely to have mothers who were still in school or who had left before graduating from high school; and,
• more likely than Inuit children of older mothers to live in lone-parent families;
• less likely to have married mothers; and,
• less likely to live in households in the highest income bracket.
A previous study found that Inuit women who first gave birth when they were teenagers had lower family income and were more likely to live in homes that were overcrowded and in need of major repairs, compared with Inuit women who began childbearing at older ages.
In Nunavut, 20 per cent of births in Nunavut were to 15- to 19-year-olds, compared with four per cent of births in Canada overall.
The authors of the study on Inuit children of teenagers, which was funded by Aboriginal Affairs and Northen Development, said the physical and mental health outcomes of the children were based on maternal reports.
Mothers could have been influenced by how they believe they should respond, by their experiences, or by subjective views of their child, the authors said.
“Thus, differences between Inuit children of teenage and older mothers may reflect mothers’ reporting patterns rather than true differences in child physical or mental health.”
But the study’s authors said the maternal reports are a “mother’s expert perceptions (versus those of an unfamiliar observer), and were provided by both younger and older mothers.”
The study calls for more research to increase understanding about what underlies the differences in outcomes between the Inuit children of teenage and older mothers.