Possible Research Agendas

Possible Research Agendas

Child Health and Child/Young Adult Outcomes

Over the years, the NLSY79 main, child, and young adult interviews have included a number of questions designed to measure various dimensions of the physical and emotional development of the children. Mothers have reported on limiting health conditions, utilization of health services, illness and accidents. This type of health related information can be linked with all the other developmental and behavioral information available about the child and his or her family. Table 2 summarizes the types of health variables found in the Child data files. Key health items from the Young Adult surveys are listed in Table 3.

Table 2.  Health Data in the NLSY79 Child Surveys

Child Health 1986 1988-1992 1994 1996-2002 2004-2016
Child's eye and hair color M        
Does health limit school or play M M M M M
Physical, emotional, or mental condition requiring: treatment, medicine,
or special equipment
Type/duration of limiting health conditions M M M M M
Accidents/injuries needing medical attention in last 12 months M M M M M
Accidents/injuries needing hospitalization since last interview/ since birth   M M M M
Number of illnesses requiring medical attention or treatment M M M M M
Date of last routine health checkup M M M M M
Menarche; age at 1st menses for female child (and mother) M M M M M
Right/left handedness       M M
Date of last dental checkup/work M M M M M
Source of health insurance, if any M M M M M
Behavioral, emotional, or mental problems; did insurance cover doctor visit M M M M M
Or prescription drugs taken to help control activity/behavior M M M M M
Height and body weight of child M-I M-I M-I M-I M-I
Healthcare during pregnancy leading to child's birth1 M M M M M
Postnatal infant healthcare and feeding1 M M M M M
Temperament Scales (<4 years) M M M M M
Motor and Social Development Scale (<4 years) M M M M M
Behavior Problems Index (4+ years) M M M M M
Asthma         M/C
Cigarette use; age first smoked; frequency   C C C C
Alcohol use; age first drank; frequency   C C C C
Marijuana use; age first used; frequency   C C C C
Substance use (like glue, gas, sprays, fluids) that are "sniffed/ huffed";
age first used; frequency
    C C C
Other drug use (LSD, cocaine, uppers, downers); age first used; frequency   C C C C
NOTE:  Users are reminded that, while Child and Young Adult health items are presented separately in these tables, all child health items were collected for young adults when they were age 14 or younger in the years their mothers were interviewed.
"C" denotes child report. "M" denotes mother report. "M-I" denotes either mother report or interviewer measurement; flag indicating source of report appears in the data file for each survey year.
1 Pre- and postnatal items have been asked in the mother's main Youth interview since 1982 so that most information has been collected for most births.  This information includes child's birth weight and length, mother's weight gain, type of delivery, etc.

Table 3.  Health Data in the NLSY79 Young Adult Surveys

Young Adult Health 1994 1996-1998 2000-2002 2004 2006-present
Does health limit work/school YA YA YA YA YA
Type and duration of health limitation YA YA YA YA YA
Recent accidents, injuries, illnesses, hospitalization1 YA YA YA YA YA
Height, body weight YA YA YA YA YA
Asthma       YA YA
Healthy Behavior       YA YA
Stressful Events         YA
Right/left handedness   YA      
Menarche (age at 1st menses) information (females) YA YA YA YA YA
Health insurance coverage for self YA YA YA YA YA
CES-Depression Scale (7 items) YA YA YA YA YA
Prenatal care (females) YA YA YA YA YA
Health care and nutrition during pregnancy (females) YA YA YA YA YA
Cigarette and alcohol use during pregnancy (females) YA YA YA YA YA
Drug use during pregnancy (females) YA YA      
Age 29/30 Health Module2         Since 2010
Age 41/42 Health Module2         Since 2014
NOTE: Users are reminded that, while Child and Young Adult health items are presented separately in these tables, all child health items were collected for young adults when they were age 14 or younger in the years their mothers were interviewed.
1 Information on recent illnesses, routine check-ups, and health insurance for young adults living in the mother's household was reported by the mother in the fertility section of the main Youth interview through 2016. All other young adult health items are obtained through the Young Adult report.
2When the first extended health module was introduced in 2010, all YAs age 29 or older were routed into it. In 2012, those YAs age 29/30 and anyone over those ages but not interviewed in 2010 went into this health module. Beginning in 2014, additional questions were added for respondents over the age of 40 and YAs who were ages 29/30 or 41/42, along with anyone else needing to complete either their first or second health module entered the health module.

For each child, the collection of health data essentially begins prior to their birth and encompasses a wide range of prenatal inputs about the mother's behavior and attributes (including weight gain during pregnancy and key facts about each pregnancy and birth), as well as summary health measures for the mother, including periodic body weight and height measures over her own NLSY79 time line. 

During childhood, health information is obtained through maternal reports. As children age into the young adult years, they provide self reported health information. During the first year of life, a relatively intensive body of child health information is collected that consists of birth/early infant-connected health problems, as well as medical visitations for both sick and well care, including the nature of the contact and the need for hospitalization. During the first four years of life, mothers complete a motor and social development scale about each child (described in detail in the Child Assessments section of this users guide) that assesses the maturational development of the child compared to other children of the same age. Height and body weight are reported or measured at each interview point. Then continuing over the child/young adult's life, reports are given biennially on accidents, injuries, and hospitalizations. One advantage that this data collection provides over institutionally collected health data is that, because it is self-reported by mother or child, it avoids biases due to the fact that different race, class, and ethnic groups are differentially likely to actually contact appropriate health individuals or institutions.

Across the surveys, considerable ancillary information is also collected about each child/young adult that details limiting health conditions (with respect to school, peers, and work); emotional problems; and the utilization of specialized medical, dental, and psychiatric services. Much of this information has been collected for each child repeatedly, plus collected for each child in a family unit. Additionally, introduced in 2004, a detailed retrospective on asthma incidence and prevalence was asked of all mothers, children and young adults. This makes it possible to link asthma histories with factors such as body weight and height over the years, a variety of potential illnesses, maternal and youth smoking, maternal activity limitation due to asthma, and a detailed geographic residence profile, all of which can help sort out possible determinants of child/young adult asthma.

The overview of research applications is not intended to be all-inclusive, but rather to suggest possible ways to approach the data, and to illustrate that there are many research questions waiting to be explored. Researchers interested in using the data are encouraged to draw on a variety of other NLSY79 informational sources including the other sections of this users guide, the NLSY79 Users Guide, public use Child documentation, and in particular, the Child and Young Adult questionnaires.