Young adults with chronic illnesses have poorer educational and job outcomes

March 08, 2011
Young adults who grow up with certain chronic illness – including cancer, diabetes and epilepsy – are less likely than their healthy peers to graduate from high school, get a job and be self-supporting, according to a study by researchers at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.Those who grew up with asthma, however, report outcomes similar to healthy peers, according to the report in the March issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Dr. Gary Maslow

Dr. Gary Maslow

“In the United States, about 12 percent of children have special health care needs, including physical and emotional problems,” said Gary R. Maslow, MD, family medicine clinical instructor in the UNC School of Medicine and graduate student in the UNC Gillings School of Public Health’s Public Health Leadership Program. “With improved medical care during the past 40 years, most children with chronic illnesses survive into adulthood. This study shows us that those children may need added support to be successful.”

Maslow and his colleagues analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to examine young adult outcomes in a nationally representative group of young men and women in the U.S. The analysis sample included 13,236 young adults ages 18 to 28, including 2,510 who grew up with a chronic illness. Those with asthma or non-asthmatic chronic illness – cancer, diabetes mellitus, or epilepsy – were compared with individuals who did not have these conditions. Sixteen percent of the young adults in the sample had asthma, and 3 percent had cancer, diabetes or epilepsy.

“Most young adults with chronic illness graduated high school (81.3 percent) and had jobs (60.4 percent),” Maslow said. “Those with non-asthmatic chronic illness did not fare as well as healthy peers or those with asthma and were more likely to receive support from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI)/disability insurance and to live with a parent or guardian.”

The authors conclude that continued efforts are needed to support children growing up with chronic illness to become successful adults, especially those interventions that target educational attainment and vocational readiness.

“Children with chronic illnesses miss school more often than healthy classmates, and they also miss out on social activities,” Maslow said. “These factors can make the transition to adulthood much harder.”

The authors also conclude that pediatricians can play a role in promoting successful young adult outcomes by recognizing that such patients are at increased risk for educational, vocational and financial problems, and by suggesting ways these individuals can get additional support.

Other authors are Abigail A. Haydon, MPH, doctoral candidate, and Carolyn Tucker Halpern, PhD, professor, both in the maternal and child health department at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, and Carol Ann Ford, MD, former associate professor of pediatrics in the UNC School of Medicine.

The article, “Young adult outcomes of children growing up with chronic illness,” is available online.
UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: Ramona DuBose, director of communications, (919) 966-7467 or