SUNDAY, Aug. 21 (HealthDay News) -- The children of disadvantaged, unhealthy mothers in the United States have many more health problems than children of disadvantaged mothers who are relatively healthy, says a new study.

Specifically, children of disadvantaged, unhealthy mothers are more than five times as likely to have fair or poor overall health. They are also more likely to score lower on surveys of well-being, have a significantly greater risk of developing asthma and/or a learning disability and are more likely to make emergency department visits.

Genetics are not the only cause of these differences, said the researchers, who analyzed data from the 2007 and 2008 National Health Interview Surveys and were slated to present their findings Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) in Las Vegas.

"Mothers who experience frequent or serious health problems may have a harder time monitoring their children or performing day-to-day caretaking tasks, including taking their children to regular medical checkups," co-author Jessica Halliday Hardie, of Pennsylvania State University's Population Research Institute, said in an ASA news release.

"Maternal health problems can also place emotional and material burdens on children and heighten their stress and anxiety," she added. "Finally, to care for herself, an unhealthy mother may have to use financial resources that could otherwise benefit her children."

For this study, being disadvantaged was determined by a combination of family income, race/ethnicity, mother's level of education and family structure.

"Skeptics may jump to the conclusion that genetics alone are responsible for the health disparities among these groups," Hardie said. "But, we assess indicators of well-being that are at least partly environmentally conditioned, which suggests that group differences are not completely due to genetics."

Since this study was presented at a medical meeting, its findings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers tips for raising safe and healthy kids.