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Open Access Research article

The impact of parental migration on health status and health behaviours among left behind adolescent school children in China

Yang Gao1, Li Ping Li2, Jean Hee Kim1, Nathan Congdon34, Joseph Lau1 and Sian Griffiths1*

Author affiliations

1 School of Public Health and Primary Care, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, China

2 Injury Prevention Research Center, Medical College of Shantou University, Shantou, China

3 Department of Ophthalmology, Faculty of Medicine, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, China

4 Joint Shantou International Eye Centre, Shantou, China

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Citation and License

BMC Public Health 2010, 10:56  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-56

Published: 3 February 2010

Abstract

Background

One out of ten of China's population are migrants, moving from rural to urban areas. Many leave their families behind resulting in millions of school children living in their rural home towns without one or both their parents. Little is known about the health status of these left behind children (LBC). This study compares the health status and health-related behaviours of left behind adolescent school children and their counterparts in a rural area in Southern China.

Methods

A cross-sectional study was conducted among middle school students in Fuyang Township, Guangdong, China (2007-2008). Information about health behaviours, parental migration and demographic characteristics was collected using a self-administered questionnaire. Overweight/obesity and stunting were defined based on measurements of height and weight. Univariate and multivariate analyses were used to estimate the differences in health outcomes between LBC and non-LBC.

Results

18.1% of the schoolchildren had one or both parents working away from home. Multivariate analysis showed that male LBC were at higher risk of skipping breakfast, higher levels of physical inactivity, internet addiction, having ever smoked tobacco, suicide ideation, and being overweight. LBC girls were more likely to drink excessive amounts of sweetened beverage, to watch more TV, to have ever smoked or currently smoke tobacco, to have ever drunk alcohol and to binge drinking. They were also more likely to be unhappy, to think of planning suicide and consider leaving home.

Conclusions

Our findings suggest that parental migration is a risk factor for unhealthy behaviours amongst adolescent school children in rural China. Further research is required in addition to the consideration of the implications for policies and programmes to protect LBC.