- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2007

So the baby is mewling and Junior escaped from the back yard again? Fear not, Granny and Grampy.

Wrangling the grandkids won’t undermine your health — and may even improve it, according to a study of more than 12,000 grandparents released Wednesday by the University of Chicago.

“There’s been a lot of noise over the years that it’s dangerous for a grandparent to give full-time care or even baby-sit. But the bottom line is this: It’s perfectly safe,” said Linda Waite, a professor of sociology at the school.

“We found no evidence to suggest that caring for grandchildren has ill effects on a grandparent’s health, whether they have the primary responsibility or are just filling in for an afternoon,” Ms. Waite said.

The findings may reassure the nation’s 5.7 million grandparents who have grandchildren living with them, according to the Census Bureau — not to mention the 2.4 million who are the sole providers of their grandbabies’ food, clothing and other basic needs.

The press has fixated on research about grandparents who desperately struggle to care for grandchildren “dumped” on them after errant parents went to jail or drug rehabilitation, or through real tragedy, Ms. Waite said.

Indeed, one 2003 study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital suggested that women who cared for grandchildren at least nine hours a week had a 55 percent increased risk of heart attack.

Many of the studies were relatively small in scope, and often skimmed over the fact that the grandparents in question were already sick or disabled, Ms. Waite said.

Her analysis — conducted with researchers at Johns Hopkins University, the University of North Florida and the University of Kansas — examined the lifestyles of 12,872 grandparents ages 50 to 80.

“We looked at a lot of outcomes, like whether their weight was affected by child care, or if they smoked or exercised,” Ms. Waite said. “We found that a decline in health is not an inevitable consequence of grandchild care.”

Instead, they found some unexpected benefits.

Grandmothers in particular reported “modest improvements” in their health; they tended to exercise more and were less subject to depression. Others said that when their grandchildren eventually moved out, they experienced “functional limitations,” according to the study, which was funded by the National Institute on Aging and published in the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, an academic publication.

The phenomenon of “grandfamiles” and “kinship care” has become more visible and more organized across the nation. AARP and GrandFamilies of America, for example, offer advice for grandparents perplexed by their return to parenting — from tax questions to legal, financial, health and educational issues.

“Our research is, essentially, a nice thing. It’s OK for grandparents to baby-sit. Won’t hurt you,” Ms. Waite said. “And I suspect that many grandparents would do it anyway, whether it was bad for their health or not. That’s just the way it is.”

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