Single Moms Need to Take Extra Care of Heart Health
As most single moms already know, raising children without a partner can be stressful. Now a new study conducted in Europe suggests that the stress may take a toll on heart health
Researchers comparing information from two large surveys, covering the experiences of more than 18,000 women in the United States and Europe found that various risk factors played a role in an elevated risk of stroke and heart disease among single moms. The study was conducted by a team from Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
Approximately 11 percent of the American women and 5 percent of the European women were single, working mothers. The other women in the study were childless, stay-at-home married mothers, or married working mothers who spent some time staying home.
After reviewing self-reported information on the women’s health problems and risk factors, the researchers compared stroke and heart disease risk factors among the four groups, as well as women from the different countries.
Overall, all of the American women had higher heart disease and stroke risks than European women. Compared to European women, U.S. women had nearly three times the risk of heart disease and more than double the risk of stroke. But rates were higher in both groups for single, working mothers—they had 1.4 times the risk of heart disease and 1.7 times the risk of stroke compared to married working mothers.
That said, the study did not necessarily prove that just being a single mother caused the elevated heart health risks. As with other studies, the working, married moms had the best health, showing the benefits of financial and partner support. Circumstances, rather than biology, appear to play a role the health risks of the women in each group.
Losing the support of a partner, along with the second income, “may cause stress and result in unhealthy behaviors,” said Frank van Lenthe, co-author of the study and an associate professor of social epidemiology at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands in a University interview.
Before this study, he said, “We did not know much about the role of work, per se, and its link to cardiovascular risk for women, and we did not know that it was single working mothers who were most at risk.”
As for the differences between the American and European women, the researchers suggested that the differences in social support and the labor markets in Europe vs. America might be the key. Many European governments offer generous financial support for parents when a child is born and taking time off after a child’s birth generally does not mean one has to fear losing their job. The American system, as U. S. women know, offers no support at all.
The other key difference is that the American women were much more likely to smoke—a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
Suzanne Steinbaum, D.O., director, women’s heart health at Lenox Hill, said she was not at all surprised by the study results. “There is no job more time-consuming, emotionally demanding and stressful than being a mom,” said Steinbaum in a University interview.
“So there is nobody who is going to have more stress, especially when you add in the financial issues, than a single mother. All that stress can take a toll on self-care,” she explained.
The most important message for single moms—especially black single moms who already have elevated risks of heart disease and stroke—is to make time to take care of yourself and of course, steer clear of cigarettes.
Keep up with medical check-ups, maintain a healthy weight, get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week, even if it’s only a brisk walk around the block, and find a way to deal with stress. Meditation is a great choice. Learn more about protecting yourself from heart disease with this American Heart Association resource for African American women.