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Transmission of Anxiety From Parent to Child Differs by Sex

Findings suggest possible role of environmental factors in the transmission of anxiety disorders from parents to children

THURSDAY, July 14, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Children of a same-sex parent with an anxiety disorder were more likely to have an anxiety disorder than children of an opposite-sex parent with an anxiety disorder, according to a study published online July 12 in JAMA Network Open.

Barbara Pavlova, Ph.D., from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and colleagues examined whether the transmission of anxiety from parents to children is sex-specific. The analysis included 398 offspring from 221 mothers and 237 fathers.

The researchers found that anxiety disorders in the same-sex parent (odds ratio, 2.85; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.52 to 5.34; P = 0.001) were associated with increased rates of anxiety disorders in the offspring, whereas anxiety disorders in the opposite-sex parent (odds ratio, 1.51; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.81 to 2.81; P = 0.20) were not. There was an association between sharing a household with a same-sex parent without anxiety and lower rates of offspring anxiety (odds ratio, 0.38; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.22 to 0.67; P = 0.001), but this association was not seen with an opposite-sex parent without anxiety (odds ratio, 0.96; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.56 to 1.63; P = 0.88).

“This finding suggests a possible role of environmental factors, such as modeling and vicarious learning, in the transmission of anxiety from parents to children,” the authors write. “Future studies should establish whether treating parents’ anxiety may protect their children from developing an anxiety disorder.”

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