A systematic review of the evidence on the effect of parental communication about health and health behaviours on children's health and wellbeing

Elisabeth Grey, Louise Atkinson, Angel Chater, Alison Gahagan, Ahn Tran, Fiona Gillison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (SciVal)


Parents report feeling unsure how best to talk with their children about sensitive health topics and may avoid such conversations; yet if children have questions or concerns about their health, talking to a parent could enhance their health and wellbeing. We investigated the effects of parental communications about health and health behaviours on children's health and wellbeing, and explored what strategies can encourage parents to communicate about health. We conducted a systematic review and narrative synthesis of research published between January 2008 and April 2020 from five databases. Of 14,007 articles identified, 16 met inclusion criteria focusing on five topics: diet and weight (n=5), body image (n=2), sexual health (n=7), physical activity (n=1) and bullying (n=1). Positive child outcomes were associated with positive general parent-child communication characterised by warmth, openness and allowing children choice. Conversely, hostility, negative and inconsistent messaging were associated with poorer outcomes. Interventions to increase parent-child communication could be classified as providing single directive messages, media campaigns or intensive support. Single messages increased communication frequency; media campaigns and intensive interventions showed mixed outcomes. No differences in outcomes were found according to child’s gender or socio-economic status. Generally, parents were less confident in initiating, rather than continuing, conversations and were more likely to initiate conversations when they felt they had good topic knowledge. While the relatively small, diverse sample limits the strength of these findings, this review provides provisional support for approaches to promote positive parent-child communication about health that are associated with better child health and wellbeing.
Original languageEnglish
Article number107043
JournalPreventive Medicine
Early online date26 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Kyriakos Velemis and Sarah Catton for their help in screening papers for inclusion in the review. We are also very grateful to the Knowledge and Library Services team at the former Public Health England for their help in running database searches and retrieving papers. Finally, we would like to thank Loretta Sollars and Sofie Ball at the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities for their comments on the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors


  • Child wellbeing
  • Health behaviours
  • Health communication
  • Parent-child communication
  • Parenting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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